GM Fiat–Use It For The Players, Not Against Them

GM fiat is when a GM is granted permission to forego the game’s rules and simply declares that something happens in the game. There is plenty of debate on these here Interwebz regarding whether GM fiat is a good or bad thing. Let me make my position perfectly clear here: I don’t care what tool a GM uses as long as the game is good.

I don’t care if the GM is “cheating” by using GM fiat. Tabletop RPGs are social events first and games second. I don’t care if a GM runs everything exactly by the rules book either, as long as the GM makes using the rules fun. Most groups ditch rules for things like encumbrance not because they are against the concept behind the rules, but because the execution of the rules is boring.

To GM fiat or not to GM fiat? I don’t care about the question. What I care about is if a GM uses GM fiat to have an unfair advantage against the players. If you use GM fiat to save you pet NPC, or to keep the game focused on what interests you instead of what your players are interested in you are not the kind of GM that I want to play a game with.

If you use GM fiat for the players, then I am all for trying out your game. Now using GM fiat for the players is not about making things easy for the players. Using GM fiat for the players is all about making the game fun for them, and that means observing the players at all times to understand what parts of the game they find to be fun.

If your players are really into the combat and you believe that a few more goblins appearing is going to make the experience more enjoyable for them then have the goblin cavalry arrive on rabid wolves to crank that dial to 11. If you think that after several rounds of well played combat that the PCs deserve a moment of awesome, and that the players need one to have a sense of satisfaction from the game, then allow the enemy to be defeated even if the rules say otherwise.

Don’t tell me about what the Forge says on the matter, or what you read about playing by the rules, or how you might have the wrong system for your group. Those are all excuses. You aren’t observing your players. You aren’t doing the most crucial job of the GM – holding the group’s interest. All the game theory in the world ain’t gonna’ matter if you are a boring GM.

And that is exactly what the GM is when he or she uses GM fiat against the players – boring. Not because you thwarted the players’ plans, but because you make the outcome predictable. You are going to stick it to the players consistently. Whoopity-doo-dah! That is like watching an NBA all-star play a game of one-on-one with a six-year-old. No one can get invested in that game because there is not potential in it. The outcome has already been determined.

So use GM fiat, or don’t use it. I don’t care. But if you do use it, use it right! Use it to make your game something more than just what the rules would allow it to be. Use it to step beyond running a game. Use it to make the session unforgettable for your players. Use it for your players to make their game experience more fun.