When does an evil GM become truly evil?


As a GM, its basically my job to be evil. Not in the traditional sense, but one of the tasks assigned to me is to throw some peril and hardship at my players. Step on their characters hopes and dreams at least a little. Make their stories fraught with bad guys and challenges. It’s my job to make sure that victory doesn’t come free and that at the end of the game they feel like they accomplished something.

A friend of mine once told me a story about someone cross country skiing. They passed a series of signs, each one maybe a mile apart: “THE REWARD” “FOR SUFFERING” “IS EXPERIENCE”. I love this quote, and I think its an important one to apply to RPGs (and storytelling in general). As the GM it’s my job to make sure PCs suffer for their experience, or that experience isn’t meaningful.

Now, let me be clear, I rarely ever drum my fingers and laugh maniacally. I’m a very friendly GM as these things go, and my number one goal is to make sure everyone is having fun. My job, however, requires me to do bad things to good people. So at what point is evil too evil? When lines should I cross? Where are those lines?

In Shadowrun there is a common saying: “Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever, cut a deal with a dragon." Dresden files doesn’t have a catchy saying to go with it, but a pretty well known rule is to never make a deal with a faerie. When I’m running these games I feel a little like the Dragon or the Faerie, cutting a deal with me is a bad idea, it’s never going to work out the way you want it to because it is my job to make sure that things never happen the way you want them to. Its up to me to make sure that the newest toy your character acquired has a target that will really test its limits.

I’m writing about this, because, once again, as I plan for our next session I find myself with the urge to steeple my fingers and laugh with undeniably evil undertones. Because as I think about ways to challenge and engage my players I also see ways to mess with their little worlds in ways that are just unkind. And when I get these ideas I have to think long and hard if they are too evil… Only in retrospect will I truly know…


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