“Only with a GM you trust”

In a post elsewhere, someone responded to a comment about a given GM technique with something like, “yes, but that only works with a GM the players trust”.

This is an old topic I think, and the quote gave me flashbacks to fiery discussions on ENWorld back in the day. Still, I couldn’t help but think, “Why are you playing games with people (GMs or otherwise) you don’t trust?”

Maybe I’m weird, but even in a game played with strangers at a convention, or a first meeting with a new group, I default to trust unless I am given reason to do otherwise. And given reason, I don’t play with them.

And the “don’t trust” phrase is key here. I understand taking certain attitudes with people you don’t know, but don’t trust implies to me an established relationship. If you know you don’t trust someone, why would you continue to play around in each other’s imaginations with them?

Or am I being naive here?

38 thoughts on ““Only with a GM you trust”

  1. I think it’s usually meant to imply there needs to be positive trust as opposed to neutral lack of trust, rather than positive trust as opposed to negative distrust.

    There are games I wouldn’t play with a group of complete strangers, not because I actively distrust them, but because I have not yet built trust with them.

  2. < ![CDATA[I think it's usually meant to imply there needs to be positive trust as opposed to neutral lack of trust, rather than positive trust as opposed to negative distrust. There are games I wouldn't play with a group of complete strangers, not because I actively distrust them, but because I have not yet built trust with them.]]>

  3. < ![CDATA[Trust isn't a binary. I play with people I don't trust 100% on every subject every time. Everyone's got strong and weak points, and those points of weakness are where you need to tread carefully.]]>

  4. Mark Delsing Sure! Full-tilt, no-holds-barred Monsterhearts is a great example. That game lets you as a player have a certain amount of control over my character’s emotional state, especially in delicate areas like sexuality. There is no way in hell I’m playing that game with a whole group of complete strangers.

  5. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing Sure! Full-tilt, no-holds-barred Monsterhearts is a great example. That game lets you as a player have a certain amount of control over my character’s emotional state, especially in delicate areas like sexuality. There is no way in hell I’m playing that game with a whole group of complete strangers.]]>

  6. Paul and Topher, you seem to be talking about subject matter. But what about specific techniques? That was the context of the post that inspired me — apologies if that was not clear; I didn’t see any need to link to it.

    So, is there a case where you’d say “This game handles task resolution with X; I wouldn’t play that with a GM I didn’t fully trust”?

  7. < ![CDATA[Paul and Topher, you seem to be talking about subject matter. But what about specific techniques? That was the context of the post that inspired me — apologies if that was not clear; I didn't see any need to link to it. So, is there a case where you'd say "This game handles task resolution with X; I wouldn't play that with a GM I didn't fully trust"?]]>

  8. Task resolution? Uh..Yeah. Okay.

    I think the Good Idea rule from Torchbearer would be totally fine in the hands of one of my players but not a couple others. Including me. You should not trust me to treat your ideas with the respect you may think they deserve.

    I would not trust at least one of my people to really work with the tick-tock conversational structure of PbtA games. In fact I felt deeply frustrated in an early DW game I was in because it was parliament, not a conversation.

  9. < ![CDATA[Task resolution? Uh..Yeah. Okay. I think the Good Idea rule from Torchbearer would be totally fine in the hands of one of my players but not a couple others. Including me. You should not trust me to treat your ideas with the respect you may think they deserve. I would not trust at least one of my people to really work with the tick-tock conversational structure of PbtA games. In fact I felt deeply frustrated in an early DW game I was in because it was parliament, not a conversation.]]>

  10. In that case, how about Amber Diceless (or more relevantly for me, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow)?

    There is a massive amount of GM fiat in how those games operate mechanically, and Amber in particular tends to be played in a very PVP manner. A lot of it boils down to being able to count on how the GM is going to receive your ideas. I have been burned by that in Amber games in the past – so much so that I stopped playing it except with super close friends who all knew each other really well.

  11. < ![CDATA[In that case, how about Amber Diceless (or more relevantly for me, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow)?
    There is a massive amount of GM fiat in how those games operate mechanically, and Amber in particular tends to be played in a very PVP manner. A lot of it boils down to being able to count on how the GM is going to receive your ideas. I have been burned by that in Amber games in the past – so much so that I stopped playing it except with super close friends who all knew each other really well.]]>

  12. Mark Delsing talking only about specific techniques and not content, there is the question: what is a GM?
    “GM” is a “legacy term”, used to indicate people in Dogs in the Vineyard, Trollbabe, Sorcerer D&D and Amber that do totally different things in each game.
    So, saying “you have to trust the GM in this game” is a shorthand, in practice, for “you have to play with people who can do what the GM has to do in this game”. You have to “trust” that the GM is effectively able to play the specific game. Being a good GM in a game don’t prove that you are good at all in another.

    Talking about me, I think (based on feedbacks and my own perception of how I play) that I am a good DitV or Trollbabe GM and a not very good Sorcerer GM, even if they are in many aspects similar games.

    I would not put it in term of “trust”, because it’s a way of describing the issue that seems to imply that all GMs are morons that believe that they can play anything only because they are good GM at, for example, D&D, and the players should “trust” or not a list of GMs that, every single one of them, say that they are able to run anything.
    I would not trust a GM like this in any game at all. They are clearly more interested in boasting their imaginary prowess that in learning the game.

    I would say instead that for certain games the GM need to be able (and be willing) to do x, y, and z, that maybe are not required in D&D.

    (usually it’s the other way around, D&D is probably one of the games that require the most “trust” in a GM, seeing that the players are merely pawns at the whim of the GM. I don’t trust anybody in the entire world to be able to run D&D “good enough” for me to play at that table…)

  13. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing talking only about specific techniques and not content, there is the question: what is a GM? "GM" is a "legacy term", used to indicate people in Dogs in the Vineyard, Trollbabe, Sorcerer D&D and Amber that do totally different things in each game. So, saying "you have to trust the GM in this game" is a shorthand, in practice, for "you have to play with people who can do what the GM has to do in this game". You have to "trust" that the GM is effectively able to play the specific game. Being a good GM in a game don't prove that you are good at all in another. Talking about me, I think (based on feedbacks and my own perception of how I play) that I am a good DitV or Trollbabe GM and a not very good Sorcerer GM, even if they are in many aspects similar games. I would not put it in term of "trust", because it's a way of describing the issue that seems to imply that all GMs are morons that believe that they can play anything only because they are good GM at, for example, D&D, and the players should "trust" or not a list of GMs that, every single one of them, say that they are able to run anything. I would not trust a GM like this in any game at all. They are clearly more interested in boasting their imaginary prowess that in learning the game. I would say instead that for certain games the GM need to be able (and be willing) to do x, y, and z, that maybe are not required in D&D. (usually it's the other way around, D&D is probably one of the games that require the most "trust" in a GM, seeing that the players are merely pawns at the whim of the GM. I don't trust anybody in the entire world to be able to run D&D "good enough" for me to play at that table...)]]>

  14. Yeah, I would avoid playing D&D or any traditional game with a random group of strangers, as the odds are the game will be structured and played in a way I would absolutely despise. It’s not just the subject matter (though that’s part of it, too), it’s the boredom and abuse potential in the system(s).

  15. < ![CDATA[Yeah, I would avoid playing D&D or any traditional game with a random group of strangers, as the odds are the game will be structured and played in a way I would absolutely despise. It’s not just the subject matter (though that’s part of it, too), it’s the boredom and abuse potential in the system(s).]]>

  16. I can see many types of “trust” here: I trust that the DM knows the game well and can use its rules. I trust the GM and the other players that they have similar tastes to mine, so we can have a fiction that satisfies all. I trust my fellow players that we can treat sensitive themes with the appropriate respect. I trust my fellow players that I can show parts of me that I wouldn’t sho everybody…

    it’s all “I trust you that you won’t fuck up my game”, but this can be true on many levels

  17. < ![CDATA[I can see many types of "trust" here: I trust that the DM knows the game well and can use its rules. I trust the GM and the other players that they have similar tastes to mine, so we can have a fiction that satisfies all. I trust my fellow players that we can treat sensitive themes with the appropriate respect. I trust my fellow players that I can show parts of me that I wouldn't sho everybody... it's all "I trust you that you won't fuck up my game", but this can be true on many levels]]>

  18. i personally would read this in two ways, mainly:
    if we’re talking about a game that needs some use to be played right (mechanics-wise), “I trust you that you know the rules and will apply them as intended”, and also (for games with heavy GM-fiat) “I trust you that you will not abuse the power the rules give you”

    if we’re playing games with a serious tone/themes (say, Kagematsu) then “I trust you that you will repsect the themes and tone of the game” (i.e. no slapstick in kagematsu)

  19. Moreno Roncucci Robert Bohl Yeah, I will admit that I would never go to a large con (e.g., GenCon) and sign up for a random D&D or Pathfinder event, but I happily sign up for random indie games because I know those games generally shape table behavior differently and attract a crowd I’m more likely to gel with. This is a kind of trust, I guess.

    These have all been great responses. Something still nags at me, though I don’t know that I can put a finger on it. The original comment was reacting to someone describing a technique for setting target numbers in a specific RPG. Do they not “trust” certain people to set target numbers in certain ways? Is this because they are used to getting “screwed” in games where GM set target numbers in certain ways?

  20. < ![CDATA[i personally would read this in two ways, mainly: if we're talking about a game that needs some use to be played right (mechanics-wise), "I trust you that you know the rules and will apply them as intended", and also (for games with heavy GM-fiat) "I trust you that you will not abuse the power the rules give you" if we're playing games with a serious tone/themes (say, Kagematsu) then "I trust you that you will repsect the themes and tone of the game" (i.e. no slapstick in kagematsu)]]>

  21. < ![CDATA[Moreno Roncucci Robert Bohl Yeah, I will admit that I would never go to a large con (e.g., GenCon) and sign up for a random D&D or Pathfinder event, but I happily sign up for random indie games because I know those games generally shape table behavior differently and attract a crowd I'm more likely to gel with. This is a kind of trust, I guess. These have all been great responses. Something still nags at me, though I don't know that I can put a finger on it. The original comment was reacting to someone describing a technique for setting target numbers in a specific RPG. Do they not "trust" certain people to set target numbers in certain ways? Is this because they are used to getting "screwed" in games where GM set target numbers in certain ways?]]>

  22. I don’t trust games that have GMs (or any one player) unilaterally setting difficulties. They are prone to abuse and as a GM I can’t stand that responsibility. The only difficulty setting stuff I tend to enjoy is highly proscribed, as in Mouse Guard RPG, where there’s a formula for arriving at obstacles.

  23. < ![CDATA[I don't trust games that have GMs (or any one player) unilaterally setting difficulties. They are prone to abuse and as a GM I can’t stand that responsibility. The only difficulty setting stuff I tend to enjoy is highly proscribed, as in Mouse Guard RPG, where there’s a formula for arriving at obstacles.]]>

  24. Oh I hate having to set target numbers in games. And I can sympathize why trust might be a factor.

    There are probably categories of trust that are less negotiable than others. Consistency and impartiality, I don’t know that those are ever negotiable. But there are systems that require less self-regulation, so if there’s someone whose strengths lie elsewhere (amazing set pieces, distinctive characterization, strong system mastery), I might trust them to run a game that doesn’t require trust at the resolution level.

    I mean, procedurally sidestepping trust is how a lot of Burning Wheel came to pass.

  25. < ![CDATA[Oh I hate having to set target numbers in games. And I can sympathize why trust might be a factor. There are probably categories of trust that are less negotiable than others. Consistency and impartiality, I don't know that those are ever negotiable. But there are systems that require less self-regulation, so if there's someone whose strengths lie elsewhere (amazing set pieces, distinctive characterization, strong system mastery), I might trust them to run a game that doesn't require trust at the resolution level. I mean, procedurally sidestepping trust is how a lot of Burning Wheel came to pass.]]>

  26. I totally agree with Robert Bohl post above (and that is one of the reason I am much better at GMing Trollbabe than Sorcerer).  “Setting the difficulties” is one of a special kind of techniques (very common in D&D and similar rpgs) that put the GM and the players always at odds
    Associated with games where character’s death or failure makes the game less fun for the players, it means that the GM has to make a lot of decisions (because when a game has this kind of mechanics it use them for everything) where a single number higher or lower can mean that the player can act in the game or not. You put “realism” or similar ABSOLUTE consideration in a judgment from a single person that can hurt the enjoyment of the game by the others. It’s a situation that should be avoided in any game, but in a collaborative game as most of rpgs is a disastrous design error (yes, I don’t consider it a choice based on taste, apart from the unpleasant cases where the designer wants his game to fail and frustrate the players. It’s an error, period. A error that has terribly limited rpgs appeal and survival in past decades)

    In these game, you can see at the table, always , players arguing more or less openly with the GM about every choice. Bothering the GM, whining, pressuring, acting passive-aggressive are optimal game strategy in these kind of game, if you don’t do any of this you get lesser chaches in your rolls! Being able to make the GM want to avoid you bothering him is more efficient and useful that a +5 sword!

    You get used to this “buzz” at the table, and not hear it any more, or even believe that it’s “normal” in rpgs. Then you play a game like Trollbabe, and you realize that the buzz is gone. You are free to play as the GM without worrying about the other player’s reactions, pressures or even their enjoyment. You are free.

    After then, if you return to games with the costant “buzz”, you can’t avoid noticing it.

    Trusting GM? Hell, in these games I don’t trust the players …,

  27. < ![CDATA[I totally agree with Robert Bohl post above (and that is one of the reason I am much better at GMing Trollbabe than Sorcerer).  "Setting the difficulties" is one of a special kind of techniques (very common in D&D and similar rpgs) that put the GM and the players always at odds
    Associated with games where character’s death or failure makes the game less fun for the players, it means that the GM has to make a lot of decisions (because when a game has this kind of mechanics it use them for everything) where a single number higher or lower can mean that the player can act in the game or not. You put “realism” or similar ABSOLUTE consideration in a judgment from a single person that can hurt the enjoyment of the game by the others. It’s a situation that should be avoided in any game, but in a collaborative game as most of rpgs is a disastrous design error (yes, I don’t consider it a choice based on taste, apart from the unpleasant cases where the designer wants his game to fail and frustrate the players. It’s an error, period. A error that has terribly limited rpgs appeal and survival in past decades)
    In these game, you can see at the table, always , players arguing more or less openly with the GM about every choice. Bothering the GM, whining, pressuring, acting passive-aggressive are optimal game strategy in these kind of game, if you don’t do any of this you get lesser chaches in your rolls! Being able to make the GM want to avoid you bothering him is more efficient and useful that a +5 sword!
    You get used to this “buzz” at the table, and not hear it any more, or even believe that it’s “normal” in rpgs. Then you play a game like Trollbabe, and you realize that the buzz is gone. You are free to play as the GM without worrying about the other player’s reactions, pressures or even their enjoyment. You are free.
    After then, if you return to games with the costant “buzz”, you can’t avoid noticing it.
    Trusting GM? Hell, in these games I don’t trust the players …,]]>