- The rules as you play should all fit in your head, with maybe a cheat sheet or a character sheet to remind you. Having to stop and look something up in the middle of a combat is a failure; having to try to remember which book to look in for the rule is beyond the pale. I’ll make allowances for things like character generation or leveling up that are done in the downtime, but even then I’d rather not have the players passing around books, or waiting until somebody’s done with the book that has the part they need.
- It is not the GM’s job to prevent the players from having too much fun. If things are going the players’ way and they’re enjoying themselves, the GM doesn’t have to suddenly throw something at them to rob them of their victory or teach them the game-world is a harsh place.
- The only thing that’s important to balance is spotlight time. It simply doesn’t matter if one character can slay a dragon in a single blow while another can be taken down by an angry toddler as long as the time spent in play and importance for the character goals is balanced between dragon fighting and diplomacy or whatever the other character is good at.
- Game mechanics should get out of the way as much as possible, they’re there to support role-playing. RP shouldn’t suddenly stop so you can play a miniatures skirmish game, or a card game, or a game of jenga. Play those when you’re in the mood for them, not as resolution mechanisms for the action in an RPG.
- If you want to write a novel, write a novel. RPGs are games, and they have to satisfy everybody at the table. That means the GM doesn’t get to say this is my world, and your role is to admire it and provide bits of improv color while my grand narrative unfolds. By the same token, players don’t get to try to turn it into collaborative fanfic about their Mary-Sue character. If everybody has agreed that it’s a game set in a relatively realistic version of medieval Wessex, don’t try to wheedle the GM into allowing you to play a ninja, even if it would be cool.
- Use dice, and let the dice fall where they may. It’s the best, most reliable way to have events happen in the game that surprise everybody; unexpected triumphs and setbacks are much more interesting than ones the GM has planned out even before the players sit down at the table. Corollary: don’t roll for anything if you’re not willing to accept a random result. If the adventure can’t proceed if they don’t find the hidden door, and having the adventure end right there isn’t acceptable, just have them find the door.
- Talk about what you want. Don’t try to handle out-of-game problems and clashes of preference by tweaking in-game rules and events in the game-world.
There’s a bunch more I could say, and have in other posts, but those are pretty much the core of how I approach RPGs. They are my preferences, and I don’t expect everybody to share them. If you don’t, you’re not playing wrong, though there’s a good chance I won’t really enjoy playing the games that you like the way you like them.