The Curse of the Lazy GM

Posted: May 2, 2012 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games

In a counterpoint to yesterday’s article, Sheimaruen contacted me to talk at length about the other side of the coin, the subject that tends to be glossed over in many an article regarding the issue of Metagaming: that of the Lazy GM.

To put it simply, Metagaming occurs whenever a player knows something that the GM is unaware of.

Therefore, if a Player is knowledgeable of a given setting (say Star Wars, or Dune, or A Song of Ice and Fire) and the GM isn’t, then metagaming will naturally happen by virtue of the difference of knowledge between both parties.

In a nutshell: A lazy GM who refuses to put in the effort to know the setting of the game is running, doesn’t have the right to accuse players of Metagaming when they know something that he doesn’t. Knowledge is a virtue, and shouldn’t be presented as an undesirable trait in players.

I found this particularly interesting since it does present a different view from mine. I agree though that these are the tricky situations. I don’t think there’s a GM out there who hasn’t run into this sort of thing when running an established setting. I know of many, many GMs who balk at running games where their players know more than they do simply to avoid the kind of conflict that crops up when players cry foul because a GM makes a misstep.

Sheimaruen raised a potential solution to the disparity of information, which is that the GM should make his extent of knowledge clear from the start of the game, and let the players fill him in on the details. This way the GM and the players both know the same amount of information.

Ultimately, Sheimaruen’s point is that both parties should apply a certain amount of effort towards learning the setting. GMs owe it to their players to do reasonable amounts of research, and players should exercise the same discipline. Likewise both parties are responsible for the proper use of such information. GM’s don’t spring some obscure nugget of information on a Player and punish the character for it, and Players should also pay attention to how and when they introduce information to the game so that it enriches rather than harms the play experience for everyone.

  1. doctorether says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the final statement.

    While running Exalted, one player knew pretty much the rules and setting as well as I did, but refrained from using that OCC knowledge in a way that gave him an advantage. If anything he simply used that knowledge to paint far more evocative scenes and helped explain things to other players, essentially helping them with their own understanding of the setting and so helping them with their storytelling.

    Now while a GM should know the setting as well as he can, I think it is a bit unfair to punish a GM for forgetting or not knowing certain parts, especially if the setting is quite large. I point to Warhammer 40000 as an example of such a setting. When ever a player is in possession of knowledge to correct a GM, it should be done in a manner that improves and lends to the storytelling, and not as some advantage to the player.

    Oh hey what do you think of the Darker Days podcasts?

    • I’ve only had a chance to listen to Episode 34, but I’m definitely enjoying it. I didn’t expect the podcast to be that long though, no wonder it took a bit of time to download on my third world internet connection. :p

      Big fan of DaveB’s work as an author and a GM so that was a real treat

  2. Hikkikomori says:

    Personally, the issue doesn’t lie on how much information either of the parties know, but rather, what information either party utilizes given the light of the current situation.

  3. […] The Fun of Being Ignorant The Curse of the Lazy GM […]

  4. Grant says:

    For some settings the issue is more about denial than ignorance. For me Star Wars is one such setting. I don’t want to know everything out there, I don’t want to have to know and I specifically don’t want parts of it in any game I play, tabletop or video game.

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