How To Avoid Being A Bad Game Master/Roleplay Admin

Not sure how to avoid doing a bad job of being a roleplay admin? Afraid of ending up being somebody's nightmare GM story? Just want to know how to handle things without being a big, mean jerk? Here are some tips to help you out in this department.

Make sure you've got your basics down. If you haven't already, take a look at Tips For New & Beginning Game Masters/Roleplay Admins. Check it out even if you're not a beginner, because even people who have been at this awhile overlook some of these.

Do your homework. If you're running a game system or pre-established setting, make sure you do all the necessary research to understand how it does and doesn't work. You're not going to be a very good GM/RPA if you don't actually know what you're doing or talking about half the time.

Mind your responsibilities. If players are waiting on you for something, get to it. Don't go off and get distracted by something. Don't go start up a chat with someone else. Doing this type of thing is very inconsiderate and rude.

Avoid fostering a toxic community. Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms on Signs You're In A Toxic RP Community, and aim to make sure that this type of thing does not happen in your own community.

Have a misbehaving player? Assume incompetence, ineptitude, mistake, and misunderstanding before malice. 90% of the time, misbehaving players aren't trying to be jerks. They might be inexperienced, or they may have misunderstood something somewhere, or they just might have made an honest mistake. Players sometimes forget things, and sometimes they end up accidentally slipping into a habit that was ingrained in them in another community. Make a habit of never assuming the worst in your players.

Do what you can to make sure there's no misunderstanding or miscommunication between you and your players. Ask yourself whether maybe you might have been unclear or ambiguous somewhere. Look at your words - were you really as clear and obvious as you thought you were, or is there room for misinterpretation? Or is it possible that you misunderstood what a player said to you? Double-check your players' words and ask yourself whether it's possible that they don't actually mean what you at first thought they meant.

Make sure your rules are not easy to misunderstand. Look at your rules and ask yourself if there's any way that they could possibly be misunderstood, or whether they actually say everything you think they do. Perhaps your rules tell people not to play "overpowered" characters, but what constitutes "overpowered" here? Maybe your rules tell people not to post "disturbing content," but what qualifies as "disturbing"? Remember that even if the answer seems obvious to you, it won't be obvious to a lot of people, so you'll have to put down some specifics for them.

Make sure your rules actually cover everything you think they do. It's happened more than once that players have gotten into trouble for "ignoring" rules or setting lore that was never actually written down in the first place. Double-check to make sure that everything you need your players to know is actually written down before issuing corrective action.

Always remember that beating around the bush is neither diplomatic nor tactful. If you need to say something to a player, be direct and plain about it. How To (Nicely) Speak Up, Assert Yourself, & Ask For Things In Your RPs (And Why You Need To) has more information on how you can be both polite and direct.

Don't guilt, shame, or be passive-aggressive. Just don't. Ever. The minute you do this is the minute you're being a bad GM/RPA.

Before issuing warnings, issue pointers. If a player does something irritating, issue a diplomatic, non-threatening pointer. For example, if someone posts in the wrong area, you might say something to the effect of, "That topic belongs over in [area], so if you'd be so kind to move it over there, it would be appreciated!" If a player fails to use brackets for OOC, you might say, "Hey, [Name], OOC posts belong in brackets, all right?"

Always aim to be clear and specific when addressing your players. For example, rather than telling a player to "stop being annoying," tell the player which annoying behaviors to minimize.

Focus on the problem, rather than on the player or on yourself. For example, instead of saying something like "I feel like you've been disrespecting me and this room," say "Your conduct here has been inappropriate and disruptive." (And while we're here, remember that outright calling someone "disrespectful" is about as useful as calling someone's character "bad." It might technically be true, but it doesn't say anything of value on its own and you might as well just skip to how and why this person is being disrespectful.) And don't say things like "I shouldn't have to keep repeating myself!" It doesn't do anything except make you sound like a nagging parent.

Thank your players for acknowledging and correcting their mistakes. I know, I know, we've all heard the spiel how we don't deserve to be rewarded for meeting minimum standards of decency, but thanking your players for correcting their mistakes gives them a little boost of encouragement and helps let them know that you're not harboring any hard feelings toward them.

Unless actual malice is involved, never kick someone out without warning. Feel free to kick out anyone who is obviously here to troll you or flips you attitude when being kindly reminded to follow a rule. But if that's not the case, then try to solve the problem by actually talking to the player first. Just kicking people out without a word is immature and unprofessional. It can also be extremely cruel if you're dealing with anxious types who will be left in agony trying to figure out what they did wrong and hating themselves for being such a failure.

Be careful not to send your players mixed messages. Ways You Might Be Sending Your Roleplayers & RP Partners Mixed Messages has more on this.

Minimize your own negativity. Don't take potshots at your players' fandoms and interests. Don't launch into rants and raves over every little thing that bothers you. Try to make sure your positivity outweighs your negativity.

And seriously, ask yourself how your players are supposed to know that you actually like them and want them around. And "I haven't kicked them out yet!" is not a valid answer. Do you constantly sound grouchy, or at the very least do your words fail to convey any positivity? Do you only ever talk to them when it's to point out a wrongdoing? Are you always complaining about how hard it is to manage the RP or how awful it is that nobody wants to follow the rules? Is your sarcastic voice/writing style indistinguishable from your normal voice/writing style? These are all important questions to ask yourself.

Also, never forget how demoralizing it is when someone never seems to notice or care about you except when you mess up. And remember that this applies to your players. Do you only directly talk to them when they mess up, or do you make sure that you compliment and praise them, or thank them for joining your game? If the former, then you might be demoralizing them.

Don't be a control freak. Obviously you can't permit just everything in your game, but if you're bent on having everything just so to the point where you're railroading the plot or constantly telling players what to do, you're doing it wrong. Loosen up. Accept that it's not about you. Your game can still be great if it goes a little bit left of what you'd originally planned. Giving players more freedom makes the game more fun. If your players end up doing something that you didn't quite plan for, at least consider rolling with it before you force them to stop. Is what they're doing really so bad, or are you just balking because it wasn't part of your original vision? (If you're not sure, "Should I Add Or Allow This In My Game?" can help you figure it out.)

Don't spring massive changes on them without discussing it first. Suddenly announcing that you're switching game systems or rehauling the entire setting is going to chafe a lot of players. So will doing anything that will force them to alter or switch their characters. If you're thinking of making a big change, talk it over with the players and find out if it's what they really actually want.

Make sure your players really can talk to you about anything. Don't be that person who says "you can come and talk to me if you have a problem!" only to lecture them on why they're wrong and selfish and need to shut up and accept how things are when they actually do.

Don't get preachy or try to be a moral nanny. If anything, assume that your players are mostly decent people and will go on being mostly decent people without being constantly reminded that such-and-such is bad and wrong or that so-and-so is a terrible person. Remember that the world is not going to fall to pieces on account of a few people who have different opinions and views from yours. Don't try to change or shame your players' personal viewpoints and opinions. It's not your place to do this, and trying to do so makes you a moral abuser, full stop. If you think that there are issues that people really should know about, that's fine - but do it elsewhere, because using your game as a platform for your activism is highly inappropriate.

Never play the victim card. There's not a whole lot that's worse than a GM/RPA with a victim complex. The GM/RPA is supposed to be in charge, and as such, should not be having to make pleas for pity and mercy from the players, especially when the game isn't working out in some way. It's a little like a government leader whose decisions and policies have been leading to disaster going, "I just meant well! It's not my fault that there's so much going on right now! Why do you all have to pick on me?" when confronted and questioned on them. Not only is this behavior grossly inappropriate, it's also a manipulation tactic for getting away with shirking actual responsibility. Don't look for pity from the people you've just annoyed or let down; just take responsibility and fix the problem.

Do what you can to reduce your stress. Any kind of stress wears on your ability to be a good GM/RPA, so it's important that you try to minimize it. Ways To Reduce & Avoid Stress As A Game Master/Roleplay Admin has tips on this.

Make sure your mods/assistants are following these guidelines, too. It sometimes happens that admins and game masters who are perfectly fine people engage the help of people who... aren't. Some of them just lack critical management skills; some are jerks or even just outright bullies. Pay attention to what your mods/assistants are doing; if they're not doing a good job, then you need to do something about it. Start out by talking to them, and if that doesn't work, you may need to dismiss them.

Never let your mods/assistants get away with bullying others. You have an obligation to take action when a mod/assistant bullies a member, even if you're afraid of starting a fight. Refusing to confront a bully mod/assistant makes you an enabler.

Ask yourself what various authority figures did to you that you hated, and aim to avoid it. Think back on the various authority figures you've dealt with in your life - EG, parents, teachers, etc. - and think about the things they did that you really hated. Maybe they berated you at length without giving you a chance to explain yourself. Maybe they nitpicked and criticized over petty or trivial things. Maybe they made decisions that affected you without asking what you actually wanted. Maybe they always made everything about themselves and their personal images in some way. Maybe they belittled you or made you feel guilty for having thoughts and opinions that didn't match their own. In any case, if you aim to avoid the things that authority figures did to you that you didn't like, you'll be well on your way to avoiding a lot of problems that make people terrible GM/RPAs.

And if you're ever in doubt, think: "what would be a professional approach to this problem?" Strive to maintain professionalism as a GM/RPA at all times, and you'll usually do all right.

You might also like:

Basic Tips To Create And Run A Good RP Plot
Starting & Running Roleplays & Bringing In New Players
"Should I Add Or Allow This In My Game?"
Reasons Your Roleplay Might Not Be Working
When A Game Master Or Roleplay Admin Might Be Power-Tripping - And What To Do About It

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