Sooner or later every GM encounters the Goldilocks Dilemma. There’s a point wherein a GM has to take a certain course of action, but swinging too far in one direction or another in terms of severity would either result in being too lax, or too stern. Like in Goldilocks, what we’re aiming for isn’t too hot or too cold, but just right. Most of the time, the Goldilocks Dilemma happens when dealing with consequences for player actions taken in game. Often, these are punishments, but occasionally this crops up when a GM is trying to gauge rewards as well.
So how does one deal with the Goldilocks Dilemma? I’m not honestly all that certain myself. What I do know is that it involves trust in the GM. Ultimately if a player believes and is willing to trust the GM to make decisions for the good of the game, and not out of some misplaced power trip, then there’s no dilemma at all. The GM is free to throw something, and the player will catch it and run with it in good faith.
If there’s no trust, then the dilemma surfaces. The tolerance of players becomes suspect, and the GM is put in the unenviable position of having to somehow balance the act. For rewards, it has to feel like something gained, but not so much that it is spoiling the players. For punishments, it has to hamper them, but without breeding ill-will among the player that the GM is somehow picking on them.
In theory, communication is the way to undo this Gordian Knot. By making his intentions clear, and opening things up to discussion, the GM can come to a fair and equitable solution that the player and the GM will be okay with. That said, this could devolve into an endless cycle of haggling between both sides. Still it doesn’t hurt to actually bring up the topic when you’re stuck in a rut.
So, how do you guys deal with this sort of thing when it comes up? What solutions have you found to be the most effective? I’m really curious to see what feedback and experiences you guys have had, so please feel free to put in your two cents over at the comments.