What are your GMing tells?

Posted: October 21, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games

In poker, a “tell” is a change in behavior or demeanor that give clues as to what a player may think about the cards that they have in their hand. For the purposes of this post however, let’s take a look at the concept of tells from the context of Gming. I think that every GM has some sort of tell, worn tropes and stereotypes made as shortcuts to initiate a particular plotline.

Upon some reflection, here are a few of what I believe to be my particular tells.

  • An invite from an NPC is often an invite to disaster – I came to this realization a while back, and I’m trying my best to subvert this sort of thing.  I think that I’ve set all sorts of ambushes and disasters along this vein that my players now instinctively throw up every possible form of suspicion before going along with something initiated by an NPC.
  • It’s always the old guy – Old people form a great majority of my villains.  Maybe it’s something about my own prejudices towards someone young being able to amass the kind of crazy influence and power necessary to be a villain, but chances are the villain will be someone past his prime.
  • Beware the ladies – This is sort of a reactionary attempt to escape a particular form of sexism in my head.  Most of the time, I have strong female villains to offset the usual stereotype.  Of course, overuse has probably lent to it becoming a personal trope that I fall into.
These are a few of my own, and I suspect that my players who read this post will be more than willing to contribute their own.  I don’t think that these are a bad thing, to be honest, but it does help to be aware of them just so I can keep things interesting and not quite so predictable.
  1. doctorether says:

    I think my tells are that it is never as obvious as it looks. This meaning my players always expect it to be more complex than I present and that they understand.

    More often than not they have to beware the charming/smarmy git.

  2. EvilGardenGnome says:

    It’s not a tell, really, but it is a ‘standard situation’. I had a player who always tried to ‘get to know’ barmaids. As it turns out, all my barmaids are fighters 5 levels higher than the PCs with proficiency in skillets, tankards, and soup bowls.

  3. Runeslinger says:

    Apparently, none of my NPCs have had a happy childhood, and no one can really expect to live to the End Times, even though they are just around the corner.

    I hope there is some exaggeration in there…

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