View Full Version : Ask a GM [11/17/08]: Who Picks the System?

11-17-2008, 10:00 AM
MuslixtheMighty asks, "Who picks the system?"

When you are deciding on what game/system to run, do you let your players feelings guide your hand or do you pick the game, no matter what they say?

11-17-2008, 10:01 AM
I think this question has a very simple answer -- both. RPGs are fundamentally a game and games are supposed to be fun. If they're not fun, why play?

GMs pick a system by choosing one that they want to run. If they don't want to run it, they won't have any fun. So why play?

Players pick a system by playing in that game. If they're not having fun, why play?

Without either -- no game.

If I have advice it is this -- discuss system and story openly and honestly in your gaming group. Try to plainly and non-accusatorily describe what you like about a game and what you don't. RPG groups are a relationship and like any relationship, communication is key.

Talk about your game. Choose it together. Have fun.


11-17-2008, 10:01 AM
I have a simple rule about the games I GM: I'm not running anything I won't enjoy.

So I choose the system and setting every time. I don't mind people suggesting things they would like to me, but if I won't enjoy running it -- I'm not going to be the GM. I encourage them to be the GM and ask to play instead.

In my experience there are far more people who want to be players than GM's for any game system. Supply and demand put leverage in the hands of the GM and I pretty much leave it at that.

I also figure that attendance is a good quality control. If you, as the GM, are running a game you enjoy but you can't find / keep players it's a good time to look at the games you are running and ask why others don't enjoy it. Or ask them and be ready for honest feedback.

If your chairs aren't empty, and you have people in queue to take those chairs... by all means run the game you will enjoy most -- you are obviously doing something right :)

11-17-2008, 10:01 AM
As I'm limited in the number of RPGs I'm comfortable GMing, I do tend to stay within those. When I do plan a campaign, I may be persuaded to do a different setting, say if every other D&D game is set up in Faerun, I'd be open to moving the setting of my game to Eberron, for example. I also may be inclined/willing to do a campaign in say, d20 Modern, if everyone else wants a change from D&D.

In my last tabletop group, I let the players give their 2 cents every so often-and a lot of the time it worked out pretty well when I went their way (or at least met them halfway & compromised).

There were very few times where I or another player asked if we could change the game to another system or another setting, and a few times the GM picked a new setting or cracked open a game no one played before.

11-17-2008, 10:01 AM
I seem to think that the GM/DM would be the one to chose which game and/or system will be used. How can a potential player make a decission on whether or not they want to be in a particular game if it hasn't even be decided upon yet?

With that said, I will admit that there are still a lot of questions that could need to be ironed out before starting a game. This is why at the first session for our group that is running the "Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" and using the 2E system of AD&D, we probably spent the fist half hour to an hour in just asking questions. Now, this doesn't mean that questions won't come up occaissionally during the game, but at least it will get the basic information stuff out of the way at the begining. This will help to give the players a sense of helping with the game even though they haven't chose the game or system themselves.

11-17-2008, 10:01 AM
As a frequent GM for my own group when I'm deciding on a campaign, clearly I want something that will fit my own ideas of what I think would be fun or exciting but I want to make sure that my players will find it fun and exciting as well. Afterall, you might think you have the greatest campaign idea in the world but if your players aren't into it, it won't be nearly as fun as you imagined it would be.

But you can't allow the players to entirely choose the game for you because they might want to play something that the GM has no interest in. If the GM isn't excited about the game, he won't be compelled to put as much effort into running it and the game will suffer that way.

To that end, I usually meet somewhere in the middle and give my players "options". I will develop the seeds for a couple of different games or campaigns that spark my imagination and I will pitch them to the group. I will let them come to a decision about which game they are most interested in and we will run with that. In that instance, the GM is essentially still the one picking the game and system, but he's also giving the players their share of input on what is being played.

11-17-2008, 10:08 AM
I think the answer is the Gamemaster ultimately decides. It is the GM that is going to have to put the majority of work into the game. The system should be one that he or she is comfortable with and enjoys. That is not to say that the players have no input. In my groups, I have always first proposed what games I am interested in running and seeing if anyone is interested. I tend to run whatever my players are must excited about. However, if there was a game that I did't want to run, but my players were jonsing for, I would suggest one of them take up the mantle of GM and try to run the game themselves. If the GM isn't excited about a game, it is doubtful anyone will get much out of it anyway.

11-17-2008, 10:56 AM
If I have advice it is this -- discuss system and story openly and honestly in your gaming group. Try to plainly and non-accusatorily describe what you like about a game and what you don't. RPG groups are a relationship and like any relationship, communication is key.

Talk about your game. Choose it together. Have fun.
Gary nailed it. It's not just the system but every aspects of the game should be discussed : heroic or gritty, fantasy or SF, system A or system B, pizza or veggie dip... Obviously everyone can bail out so there's no point insisting on a type of game the GM doesn't care for unless you offer to run the game yourself. Even then it doesn't mean the rest of the group will follow you.

Eventually it could be time to realize you have nothing in common with the group you planned to play with. I personally prefer no game than a game I don't enjoy but YMMV

11-17-2008, 10:59 AM
I guage what the players want, the key is to play with players who enjoy your playstyle. I know my players wouldn't play 4e ever, nor would i, but didn't want to just stick with 3.5, so i found pathfinder and everyones loved it. I joked the other day about switching to 4e and it was pretty much said that if i did i (the dm) would be voted out lol.

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
11-17-2008, 04:08 PM
The GM does ultimately decide, but that's not to say that i havent offered up a few other rpgs to my group for a change of pace.

In the end, you want to play something you enjoy balanced with what your players would enjoy. It can never be one way or the other. I've seen GM's try this with disasterous results.

11-17-2008, 04:22 PM
Get a good feel for the predominate group dynamic. Are they more role play versus melee play oriented? Finding a gaming/system that is built around one approach as opposed to the other may be more helpful as a game in bringing more enjoyment out of the experience.

11-18-2008, 06:26 PM
I guess it depends on the group. When I had a steady group of eight players, every year a new gm/dm would take over and they would pick the system/world we would play in.

Lately, as players are dwindling because of time/lives/xbox/ps3/whatever (choose one). If you can get five players together weekly is a challenge in itself. So when I started my group I asked what there preference of world we should play in. However, I chose the rules system.

11-21-2008, 12:22 PM
ive never had a problem with the players not liking my games, and i always decide which system we run without input, but if i dont like the way people play my games i have been known to replace almost all players with new ones not because i wasnt enjoying it but because other players werent enjoying it and the few people were ruining it for everyone
new question at which point is it time to replace a player?

11-22-2008, 02:55 PM
What happens in most groups I have played in, is GM suggests a System/setting and the players comment/vote.

As the GM I have a veto. Someone else proposes "Soap Opera Vampire: The Endless Monologue" - I can say "Have fun with your bad selves, but I won't be there."

Eventually we reach a consensus on what is to be played.

I try to have some viable alternatives available. But some times I am so hepped up about a game, I push for a specific conclusion.

This can have mixed results. It really depends on how much rope the Players are willing to give me.

Jay ~Meow!~

11-23-2008, 12:52 AM
Most often I run whatever the group decided on. Granted, the only campaign we ever really got in depth with was a D&D published campaign, but on our weekend get-togethers we would usually throw something out there (OWoD, D&D, NWoD).

You get the idea. Whatever we could do to prevent the dreaded B-word: Boredom.

11-23-2008, 11:23 AM
I'm aligned along the same way as Webhead and Gary.

I allow my Players to have a large part in what Game I run.
But then, I have several different Games to choose from, and an interest in all of them.

And I agree with Grimwell – if you are not enjoying yourself as either Player or GM, then you should not be participating in the Games.

I also know a few other GMs, that do run some of the RPGs that I will play in but won't run.
Usually White Wolf WoD RPG – Vampire, Werewolf, etc.

new question - at which point is it time to replace a player?
For me, when that Player is either being constantly rude to the other players, or being abusive to them – either verbally or physically.

11-26-2008, 12:25 AM
I usually find a few systems that I want to DM and have the players and I vote on which we want, although this has the downside of lacking a strong advertisement for the game, which can make the players less confident that they're going to want in. But you definitely give the majority what they want when everyone votes.

11-29-2008, 11:23 PM
I usually let the players vote, but I also hold veto powers :eek:. I want everyone to enjoy themselves, but if the vote comes down to a game that I really can't stand, or one that I don't feel great about DMing, then I'll ask one of the players to run the game. With that said though, I've found that an open line of communication from the DM and players creates a better overall experience. It's a two way street, and the players generally feel better about the choice of game if they have some kind of imput on that game. Just my 2 cents, but it's worked for me for around 15 years.

12-02-2008, 11:35 AM
I decide what I am going to run, and recruit for that.

I usually have access to a large pool of players, which come and go, depending on their own game preferences.

I don't run games I don't like.

12-02-2008, 11:51 PM
The GM pitches a game or three.

If players say "OK" or "That one" then do that.

12-05-2008, 12:22 AM
I decide what I am going to run, and recruit for that.
completely agree with this statement its not hard to plan a story if everyone knows what they are getting into

12-05-2008, 06:22 AM

"This is gonna be Star Wars, d6, system, not d20, nor saga...
A year before Kenobi and Luke meet, in a far off sector, mostly non jedi PCs, focussing on smuggling and Hutt Crime lords."


"Star trek, last unicorn games, Post Undiscovered country, 20 years before Next Gen, romulan border, a small scout ship, senior bridge officers of Starfleet."

People can then self filter.

If I get two players that want to play in what i've said, I run it.

Just like here... about a week and a half ago, I posted an ad for my alternity / traveller game, in sci fi threads. 36+ views, no takers.

Okay, so i'll toss out something different.

12-05-2008, 01:09 PM
i personally recruit my players by posting a flyer detailing the kind of campaign 2-3 weeks before i start at the local gaming store (i hold my games there anyway) that way i KNOW every one who shows up wants to be there and everyone who doesnt show up doesnt and i can run the game i really want to run

12-06-2008, 10:12 AM
Normally, I only do that when I'm looking to add more people to my already existing Group.
In which case I can detail what is already being played (System and Class types) as well as what would best be needed to help the entire Group.

Or I'm forced to try and find a whole new group. In this case, I'll just list the Game System that I already have the most Adventure Ideas planned out.

For an entirely new Group, I will usually prefer to start the Group out at 1st level - I can be convinced to increase this, but will not go higher then 3rd level (or the equivalent) until they get some gaming experience with me. Even if the other Players have been playing as long as me - more then 25 years.

I do this so that they can get as much a feel for the way that I run my games as it is for me to get used to their gaming styles.

12-06-2008, 09:49 PM
For an entirely new Group, I will usually prefer to start the Group out at 1st level - I can be convinced to increase this, but will not go higher then 3rd level (or the equivalent) until they get some gaming experience with me. Even if the other Players have been playing as long as me - more then 25 years.

I do this so that they can get as much a feel for the way that I run my games as it is for me to get used to their gaming styles.

that seems like a good approach *adopts method*

12-13-2008, 11:16 AM
Awesome! Thanks.

I usually also leave the first two days completely open.

Day 1 is everyone meeting, and deciding on the System, if one has not already been decided upon - Including a possible test run, if the game is new to all the Players: so that they understand everything about it.
- see Ad, above
If everyone is already familair with the System - then I skip to Day 2's plan.

Day 2 is everyone making their Characters.
If they can get done quickly, then the rest of the day is setting up the 'In Character Meeting' in the town or City that I have decided upon.
This includes making sure that each Character has a background, and describes their travels and entering the town. Once there, they can then start to figure out how to meet and interact with each other and choose their first Quest or Adventure.

12-13-2008, 11:53 PM
I make sure that everyone is in total agreement on the system being played. This is mainly due to the fact that players do well in certain systems and the GM is only going to know a certain amount of systems well. I just like to make sure there aren't too many rules-lawyers or powerplayers, which can quickly ruin a game, no matter what system.

12-14-2008, 09:11 AM
For myself, I tend to be very honest about what Systems I am familiar with - and whether or not I like it, and why. If the group wants a system that I don't know - or like - and there is another that does know it, then I will offer them the position of DM, and be content to simply play.

While I can offer advice to the other (possibly new) DM, I do everything I can to not use anything that my Character does not actually find out In Game - lest I ruin the fun for everyone. If I'm metagaming or helping the DM too much, then I might as well have just saved the time and been the DM, myself.
While Rule Lawyers and Power Gamers can be disruptive, and a pain in the DM's - - side; there are ways to deal with them.

Try and make these individuals your friends.
Remind the Lawyer that the game is not about the Rules alone.
Tell them also that you have House Rules, if you do. It might help if you made a list of what these were, so that you can pass them around to everyone.

And that while you don't mind having something pointed out to you, it should almost never be in the middle of a game. They can bring it up at the end of the game, or before the start of the next game. If you already knew about that Rule, and made a House Rule, tell them what the change was, and make sure you keep a copy of what it is. Remember, the Rules are meant to follow the Spirit of the Game, not the Letter of the Laws.

Tell the Power Gamer that it is not how powerful their Character is, but how far the Story goes, that is important. While it may seem unfair, have a lot of equally powerful monsters and foes target the Power Gamer.
Make a copy of everyone's character and keep track of the abilities, feats, skills - and weaknesses.
Heck, challenge that Power Gamer to play an All Average Character, just to see how far they can get.

It's not necessary to consantly kill any form of Munchkin, to get your point across. Yes, the story is about their Character, and is meant to be fun. But it's meant to be fun for everyone at the table - including the DM.
The one type of Player that has the biggest chance of getting kicked out of one of my Games is the Metagamer. This Player only gets three warning in my Game. If you want your Character to be able to do something that you as a Player know can be done, but the Character does not currently have the means to justify how they knew to do that, then tell the Metagamer that they need to do some In Character Research or Gather Information, before they can act upon that knowledge.

Sometimes as the DM, I find it fun to give the information to another Player's Character, so that they know more then the other Players at the table. It puts the spotlight on them, if only for a short time. I dislike ignoring anyone that sits down at my table.

Metagamers can make awesome Wizards, since this class has the most means of 'bending the rules' - especially at higher levels. Summon Planar Ally, Clairaudience, Clairvoyance, Scrying, Messanger spells, and Familiars - give them the ability to send and recieve messages quickly, and undetectable to anyone else except another Spellcaster; can make a Wizard very knowledgable and mysterious as to how they found out that information. Remember to have the Metagamer actually roleplay how they go about getting the information in the first place. Important Plot-line information can be done on a 1-on-1 basis, so that the Player can reveal the information to the rest of the Party in the manner they feel best. Information that is useful, but not overly important can be done in front of the entire group.

Bards can also be a good class for either the Rule Lawyer or the Metagamer. Their Bardic Knowledge can remember almost anything. And their spells list makes them just as effective at being the 'communications expert' as the Wizards. And even if they don't have some of these spells, the DM can always add them. Remember that Bards are like Sorcerers, and they have to choose Communication, Party Support, or Combat spells. And once Chosen, they can't be changed. (Although a Wish can do this, it's usually not worth it, by the time they can afford to get one.)

One of the things that the DM might need to remind themselves of - is the fact that there will always be Munckins in the Games. In point of fact, a lot of DMs are themselves one form, or another type (or a combination of several) of Munchkin. Don't force change on your Players - that will ruin the experience for them, and cause them to stop wanting to play. Simply adapt as best you can, and encourage them to change.

For example, myself: I started out very much a Power Gamer and minor Rules Lawyer. Over the years, I toned down. As the DM, I know that in my Games I am the Games Organizing Director - and that if needed, I can kill anyone's Character at any time, in (or out of) the Rules. If I don't like the group that I'm with, I can either step down as the DM, or simply leave - and try to find a new group.

Or play World of Warcraft!!

05-08-2009, 10:46 AM
Thats easy - i pick the game and players choose to join or not. As a GM, i start with an idea. I never just do throw-away scenarios - my world changes and adapts to character actions so i vetting everything that happens in them. I only play one system now, a universal system i made myself, so thats pretty easy for my players. However, if i'm going to play i may have some input or if as a GM I'm just doing a one-off in a different universe/world, i have been persauded to run an occasional different system - especially true for SCI/FI settings.

Baldwin Stonewood
05-18-2009, 03:15 PM
I think you need player input on what system and type of game the players what to play. That being said, as a DM, you have find something that you want to do and that will stir your creative interest.

05-21-2009, 08:42 PM
Players should be able to adapt to any well-conceived system, while the GM needs to be completely comfortable with the system he's running.

05-21-2009, 10:10 PM
MuslixtheMighty asks, "Who picks the system?"

Everytime we start something, I ask the players what they want to play, but they won't ever commit to anything. So I pick what we do whether I wanted to or not.

Opie Wan Kenopi
09-27-2009, 12:18 AM
You really have to consider the idea that every body at the table is part of the game. As the GM you have to be enjoying what you are running so the game choice is important to you. As players in the game if its not the game you wanted to play why are you there.
So my best bet is when I start to look for a group to GM for I let everyone know what games I like to run and let the players have input as a group forms as to what genre they prefer to play in. Once you have this locked to a majority rule usually every one is likely to be happy with the end result.
If you have a preformed group you generally know what’s going to fly with your players. But spice is the life of gaming, I like to try new systems and play around with different genre. This sometimes becomes something you have to sell to your players.
Above all as a GM try to learn to be flexible mastering isn’t about being “The Master” it’s about be a master of the art.

Richard Littles
09-27-2009, 04:30 AM
Since I'm the GM I pick the system. Of course the system I pick is going to be Hero System, so I can run any type of genre the players decide to try. My old playtest group started with a western until they were comfortable with Hero then I moved them to Inceptum Terminus. They had a blast creating characters for both genres.

09-27-2009, 03:19 PM
I've always had the DM choose the system, and that's most often been me, so mostly I choose.

Right now, I'm starting a group (our first meeting is this week) and I told them all that we'd be playing D&D3.5, though I'm letting them choose, or at least have input, in the world and focus of the campaign.