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The Lost GM Scrolls: James Jacobs Lists His Pet Peeves

The Lost GM Scrolls: James Jacobs Lists His Pet Peeves

Lost ScrollsBack in the fall of 2009, Chris Dinkins and I interviewed a host of game designers and novelists who were also experienced game masters. We sent around too many questions to too many GMs and received far too much material for one article to hold. As a result, a lot of great material got scrapped. Fortunately, gaming wisdom ages well. I recently discovered a folder full of all that cut material (anecdotes, advice, and miscellany), which we will be presenting, here, in the Lost GM Scrolls. Enjoy!

What irks James Jacobs when he’s GMing? Here’s a list of pet peeves from the veteran GM and Creative Director at Paizo that you might want to send around to your gaming group before the next session.

James Jacobs: Pet peeves . . . let me see. I guess I’ll just list a dozen or so out of the many I have: players who don’t bother letting you know that they’re going to be late to the game, people who complain about game rules but never seem interested in solutions (or playing different characters that don’t use the rules that annoy them), dwarves, nonintelligent monsters with alignments other than Neutral, edition war arguments, players who surf the net during the game, having to repeat read-aloud text, immediate actions and their ability to enable players to disrupt the flow of game play, silly names in serious games, players who build characters that are intentionally awkward for the campaign style they know they’ll be going on, people who see paladins as rules-sanctioned opportunities to make disruptive characters, the overabundance of horse stat blocks, the implication that a 3.5 Large crocodile doesn’t exist*, GMs who go out of their way to kill characters, and overly loud players . . .

Update from James Jacobs: It’s worth noting that in Pathfinder, we do have Large crocodiles. Sometimes pet peeves can be solved!

If you’re a GM, what are your pet peeves? And do you have ways to address them at your table? Feel free to discuss them in the comments section!

31 thoughts on “The Lost GM Scrolls: James Jacobs Lists His Pet Peeves”

  1. Rules lawyers! They drive me crazy. Someone who’s playing an Elf who casts spells wants to argue with me about how “realistic” something is. I need to start bringing a cattle prod to my games…

  2. Investigative scenes where none of the players know where to go next because there isn’t sufficient information. I guess that’s more of a player pet peeve.

    As a GM, I think my pet peeve is players who are so Rules As Written-oriented that drift is dismissed before it’s evaluated.

  3. Ha, Wolfgang!

    I think my pet peeve is seeing one player try to tell another player how to play his or her character (and the second player already has a darned good idea of how he or she wants to play that character). I do step in there when I see that happening. (It happens so rarely these days — I’ve had some really good groups over the past few years! At most, the other players suggest possibilities when a player is stumped and then let the player take it from there.)

  4. Rules lawyers…especially those that are eager to demand the use of stats in place of roleplaying, when they have no good reason to have those stats aside from that the rules say so. Real example: the cleric who takes ranks in Craft: Armor, when throughout character generation and the first several sessions is all about being a bookish scholar and proponent of the faith…and then suddenly gets cranky when he’s not allowed to ahmmer out a full suit of armor between sessions because he put points into that skill. Where’s the story, bub?

  5. I really dislike it when players are one-dimensional role-players. One of my least favorite “styles” of role-playing is when people don’t know how to act different from themselves, so they tack on one abrasive or obvious shtick to an otherwise identical copy of themselves and then go to town. Change characters? Change shtick.

  6. Skill checks. My issue is not that skill checks are evil; as an intransigent rules lawyer can certainly become. My problem is I find many players using the simple die roll of a skill check in place of good descriptive play. For example, when presented with a situation that might require intimidation I often here a player say “I try to intimidate!” and before I can ask them to expand on their description out come the die. “Hey look-it, a 20!” exasperated I respond “Well okay, we can let the skill check ride if you can explain to me exactly how your halfling rogue managed to intimidate the Ogre out of his ale….”

  7. having to spoon feed players and lead them by them nose, because they’re to lazy to figure out the plot hooks.

  8. Dwarf Druids with dire bat animal companions that they ride…really any animal compainion with blindsignt/sense/tremmor sense, etc…really any Dwarf Druid

  9. A night of bad dice rolling leading to amazingly bad outcomes (player death from a cat?). Ending a campaign before completing the story arc. Every missed session. Premade adventures with weak character hooks. Players complaining about imbalanced classes, especially if only comparing damage. Players trying to ‘win the game’ while everyone wants roleplaying. And players who don’t cares what happens to their characters, especially if they’re rolling for a new one before the old one is dead.

  10. Great stuff – can’t wait for more installments!

    Regarding Dwarves – James has often spoken of his dislike of Dwarves. James, I love ya and I think you create amazing stuff BUT … I just don’t get that!

    Put my name in the ‘Dwarves Are Awesome’ column!

  11. I like the idea of these excerpts. Another reason to visit KQ.com regularly while I wait for my next print mag.

  12. Boring DMs. DMs who dish out week after week the same hack n’ slash games despite having promised different approaches. DMs who resort to a gimmick and abuse it ad nauseam thinking it entertaining. DMs who lack vision and fail to direct their group to encourage character development. DMs who claim they’ve played with such and such celebrity and say “that’s the way they do it” all the while ignoring other mechanics. DMs who don’t follow up on their promises to look into something. Basically, annoying DMs.

    And overly loud players.

  13. Players who take freedom of choice (character options) as licence to disrupt the other players or screw with my plot. “Wired” players, not just net surfing, looking up rules to one-up me and my decisions right after I make them.

  14. HA! I did indeed list dwarves as a pet peeve! And I’ve put that in writing plenty of times before…

    Doesn’t mean I won’t ignore dwarves in Golarion… but it does mean that I won’t be playing any dwarf characters anytime soon.

    Even though my very first D&D character was a dwarf. (shudders at the repressed memories)

    OH! And thanks for checking out my pet peeves! It helps to vent, and helps even more when folks hear you vent! :)

  15. My biggest pet peeve – players who text friends outside the gaming group or check up on the status of a professional sports event during the gaming session.

    Also, I dislike dual scimitar-wielding outcast drow characters, half-dragon/half-celestian minotaur vampire Paladin/Rogues, etc., flumpfs, new versions of classic monsters that are barely different from the originals and included just to allow the author to claim to have invented a ‘new’ monster, ‘power creep’, spherical d100s that never stop rolling, players that feel they must make the rolling of a die an enormous production as if going for craps at a casino, and, of course, dwarven druids. :(


  16. Why the Dwarven druid hate? Caves are part of nature to ya know. Plants grow undergrounds. Well mushrooms do, and lichen.

    Ah who am I kidding, they sound odd.

    Players that complain when their creative interpretation of the rules is shot down.

  17. Players who refuse to come up with any sense of a back story, then look to the GM and complain about not being able to get into the story of the game.

    Players who continually sidetrack game as though game-time is social hour. (Its not)

    GMs who change plots after years of development because the PCs happened to figure something out.

  18. Biggest peeve: smart phones. I’ve got players (and one GM) who not only text and check sports scores, but also play Words with Friends during the game…

    Other peeves include players ceaselessly complaining about rules minutae, refusing to let things go, and ranting about politics during the game.

  19. Many of these sound more like style mismatches between GM and players than anyone doing anything wrong.

    My pet peeves? The biggest one would be disruptive players… you know the kind who really don’t want to be playing and do things to deliberately derail the plot. Like attacking the king or town militia or burning down villages or even joining the bad guy…

    To a lesser degree the casual gamer is a pet peeve as well. You know the type who does want to hang out with her friends, but just doesn’t get into the game. They check e-mail, sport scores, surf the web, chat on the phone, etc. all during the game. They may be having fun, but can’t be bothered to remember important game information.

  20. Hmm…Well, firstly I usually DM. We play at the FLGS (One player is the Manager there), Store closes at 7PM, we start between 7:30-8.
    Peeves: Despite the fact that I inform the players to have their food, sodas,coffee,etc… taken care of before they show…When I get there@ 7:30, 2-3 are off getting ‘stuff’.
    Smart Phones that aren’t on ‘silent’. I keep mine on, and don’t mind folks doing likewise, but don’t make me hear your loud Journey Ringtone, ok? Plus, The Rogue and I (All players, if the wish) text instead of passing notes.
    Referring to all treasure in Build Points (Kingmaker game…).

  21. DM:
    Players that complain about DMing style but do not bring it up to the DM.
    Players that consistently expect the game to revolve around only their needs.
    Players that can’t talk into the microphone loud enough or too low or sound like they are running a wind tunnel experiment or have the mic shoved up their backside…
    Players that are PC illiterate(I play online exclusively) and every week I have to re-explain how to roll a check for them.
    I totally agree with read aloud text repeating. One time I had to re-read the text so many times I thought the players were pulling my leg.

    GM that changes the rules every game.
    GM that does not understand EPIC challenge should not be the norm every game. Just because we defeat your BBEG in a couple rounds does not mean you have to raise the CR by 12 on every subsequent battle.
    GM’s that will never ever kill a PC.

  22. I see a lot of my normal pet peeves listed. I’ll note them again.

    Internet connected Rules Lawyers

    People who refuse to read up on their class and then are shocked to find out what they can do.

    Asking me what others are playing (I prefer people to play the class they enjoy)

    Holding up battle to ask me what everyone at the table is doing, what the enemy is doing. Then ask me what their best combat options are and expect me to tell them how to defeat everything.

    As others stated chattering socially and discussing other games when we are playing.

  23. Sneak Attack! I have no problem with the rule itself but the name is a silly hold-over from 1E, when thieves and assassins used this only when launching genuinely unexpected attacks. It should be called “Flanking Attack”, or “Dirty Trick”, or some other non-sneaky name.

    Why, you ask?

    Because the victim is engaged in life-or-death combat with the attackers. The victim knows the attackers want to attack – that’s what a life-or-death combat is all about. How in the world is it “sneaky” when one of the attackers does exactly what the victim is expecting them to do? That is simply *not* sneaky!

  24. For all those GM’s who don’t like their players web-surfing during the game: If they are still using laptops, just shut down your wireless router before the game starts. You can still hook up your own system with a Cat-5 cable if you need internet access during the game, but everyone else will be out of luck.

    Of course, with the proliferation of 4th Generation direct-connect devices, this solution will only work for a another couple of years, at most. Take advantage of it while you can!

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