My Way… of the Highway? (5 Pitfalls of “Author GMing”)


GMs in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game often become focused on telling “their story” or running “their adventure” particularly when they take the time to create their  own settings or encounters. A smaller part of this group treats their creation more like a novel or play than an adventure. Losing sight of the collaborative narrative, these “Author GMs” tend to inflict and suffer a lot of pains that might have been avoidable with just a bit more flexibility in their planning…

5 Pitfalls of “Author GMing”

While the beautifully rendered worlds and elaborately scripted encounters of some GMs tightly envisioned worlds can be amazing, the lack a resilience can lend itself to a brittle play experience. The initial act of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is that of creation. Character creation is a profoundly personal selective process and it is the first and ultimate act of player agency (If you could be someone else, who would that person be?). Then from that ultimate moment of player agency, the author GM attempts to shove the player into the role meant for them. This is just the first of many pitfalls, consider:

  • Loss of Player Agency – Scripted encounters discount for player decisions and can feel forced, unrealistic and unimaginative. Scripted conflicts fall flat if the player doesn’t react as anticipated and the most amazing ending a GM envisions may be flatly uninteresting to her players.
  • Omission of Consent – If a GM surrenders to the “momentum” of their own story it will likely be a thing entirely of their own preferences and desires. That also means it might trample over needs, forcibly present triggers and otherwise negate even the opportunity for player consent. A GM may have written a brilliant psycho-sexual horror piece but may have missed that three of their players aren’t equipped to handle that.
  • Required Elements – An “Author GM” frequently requires specific classes to present, absent or limited. Same is true for races and other rules elements. This results in either players lacking the options to engage fully or GMs being frustrated by players who refuse to properly engage the story.
  • Generative Stagnation – Player’s unexpected actions have inspired GMs to re-envision entire campaigns on the fly and created collaborative stories that NEVER would have existed without all players involved. The removal of agency (as mentioned above) leads to stagnant storytelling that can have difficulties even matching a trite video game’s plot-lines.
  • Group Dissonance – The constant need to bring players back on script is going to make the nicest GM feel oppressive and dominant. The smallest deviation from narrow plot points is going to make players seem reckless and chaotic. The building tension mounts and even long time play groups crumble or fragment. Long term damage to a gaming group is rarely worth the risk.

This isn’t to say tightly scripted GMing NEVER works. It can be exactly what is needed for Convention gaming where the GM is likely to create the PCs and player agency is often reduced to “I want to play something!” and pure enthusiasm for the game.

Want more freedom for your players? Check out our offerings! Like the Book of Beyond: Spells of Boon and Burden or see our other products at:, drivethruRPG, paizo and RPGNow.

This entry was posted in Game Mastering, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Player Advice and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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