Good GM Move? Declaring Yourself Removed From Player vs. Player Shenanigans

Saturday June 18th was Free RPG Day and I ran a game at my local game shop of Icons by Adamant Entertainment, which is a an easy to run Superheroes RPG that is heavily influenced by Fate and Fudge. The premise of my one-shot session was that the heroes of the city have been wiped out, and now the bottom of the barrel superheroes must step up to defend their city. This game was very tongue-in-cheek and followed the lead of great comics such as The Tick and the film Mystery Men. The title of the session was “The Benchwarmers” and it was a fun but ridiculous game.

My game seemed to appeal to two different groups – half of my players were under 15, and the other half was over 30. From some comments made by the younger players before the game officially began I had a sense that there would be some immature moments and player vs. player conflicts during the game. I really had no interest in dealing with these types of moments, so I stated that I would not interfere with any attempts by the players to cause conflict between each other and to sabotage the game with such moves. I also would not attempt to change player actions that were obviously counter-productive to the story of the session. Whatever the players declared to be doing in game would stand, and the dice would take it from there.

Seems pretty counter-intuitive to what I was hoping to avoid, right? I mean, that is like asking the more immature gamers in our hobby to ruin the session with all sorts of foolishness. That was not the case at all though, because by clearly stating my intentions to the group I not only excused myself from having to negate any player’s actions against another player’s character, but I also made it clear that the players would have to deal with each other’s actions on their own.

This approach was very effective, because if a player was being a jerk to another player what I felt about the situation was irrelevant. That player had to face the direct impact that he had had upon the other player’s enjoyment of the game. The “But the GM let me do it!” excuse as well as the “The GM wouldn’t let me play my character!” complaint were completely negated. If the other player said “This sucks! He keeps screwing up things for my PC!” I would simply nod and say “Yes, I agree. I’m not going to tell him how to play his character though.” This was not taken as a dismissal, but instead it was seen as an acknowledgement of the problem. This also effectively brought the point of conflict right to where it belonged, which is to say it remained between the players.

The other huge benefit was that the older players would chime in when a problem player would try to defend his actions with a more mature perspective. If the problem player’s PC attacked another PC, the older players would say things like “Why? We don’t have time for that.” or “Can we get on with the game?”, but their comments were not directed at me. These comments were directed at the problem players.

This made the problem player’s actions much less rewarding on a social level. Suddenly there was no joy in wasting the GM’s time with silly actions. I would let the action occur, but the group would let the player know that they did not appreciate the results. Too often the GM becomes the bad guy in such scenarios, but I was able to avoid it this time because I refused to be a part of it. When requests like “I want to shoot the other PC in the balls.” came up, I just said “Roll the dice. That was your action. Next.” It was odd that by not trying to prevent the attack from happening that I was more effective in showing just how stupid it was to play like that in the first place. After the first hour of play the player vs. player shenanigans had pretty much disappeared.

But is this a good GM move? Yes? No? Maybe you know of a better method? Leave a comment below and let the rest of us know how you feel.