It’s Good To Make Mistakes As A GM
Have you ever stood behind a GM screen and made a ruling on something at your table, and then after the game rechecked the books and really dug into the problem only to find you were wrong? Yea, that happens. For you new GMs, it’ll happen a lot and that’s a good thing.
If you aren’t making mistakes while your GMing:
You aren’t paying attention -or- You are, you’re just lying to yourself.
Either way, you are creating the wrong atmosphere for your table. In a world where you make the GM infallible, you inadvertently create an environment where players can’t talk to you about rulings and you aren’t rechecking your work.
Rechecking your work is an important step, not just in real life but also at the table. By rechecking that you are making the right calls and reading the rules correctly, everyone at the table can decipher the rules in the correct manner.
If your players are constantly getting the rules wrong or asking how you would interpret something, it probably means that your rulings are inconsistent and going against how the rules are intended (RAI). If players are constantly confused about how something works, this is the perfect time to set aside a bit of time during prep to go over those rules and make sure you understand fully what they mean.
I constantly write little notes or make mental notes during games to go back and check on rulings I made in the game, even on things I’ve made the ruling for multiple times in the past. I accept that I may have gotten the rules wrong, and it isn’t a big deal. All the times when I’ve made a mistake, my players were understanding and nothing catastrophic happened at the table.
If you do realize you made a mistake in your rulings, talk to your players. They are only flesh and blood too and have made mistakes before. They get it. GMs, while parading around as all knowing and powerful, are just people trying to have fun. Sometimes we make rulings that help our monsters, sometimes it helps our players; but in the heat of the moment, those rulings can be wrong and we need to go back and double check our work.
I recommend having a scrap piece of paper you can go back too and write down any rulings you made in the game to go back and double check. For your first few sessions, I’d write down any and all rulings you make, doesn’t matter how often you make that specific ruling; just write it down. Then, during your prep time, recheck the rules. If there is a problem, bring it up to your players. If everything is correct, pat yourself on the back and move on with your prep.
As a side note: If you find yourself worrying that your players are going to be upset by your rulings or get angry with you, then that is a sure sign that they are willfully bending/breaking the rules so that they can cheese something. Everyone at the table should put clear communication and honesty at the forefront of the table; this is a party-based game and if one person at the table is miserable, than the table needs to discuss that. No one wants to waste their fun time being miserable, and if you are miserable at your table, it may be time to find a new table.
Lying To Yourself
But what if you never made a bad ruling. All your rulings are correct. Well, if every time you make a ruling, and you never recheck your work and you just know you are correct 100% of the time. You are lying to yourself. There is no simple fix to this type of behavior but to recognize it and accept that sometimes… even a great GM, like yourself, can make the odd mistake.
It is an important sign of personal growth to look at your mistakes and to own them. Mistakes happen, and we all make them. By not accepting you make mistakes, you are setting yourself up to fail and you may even find yourself without a table to play with.
If you are scared about admitting you made a mistake, think about that. Why are you scared to make a mistake? Are you afraid your table will use this against you? Are you afraid that your players will hate the new ruling? In all cases, the table should have a talk about a ruling that might cause problems and everyone might even agree to ignore the rulebooks on this rule, but be honest to your players.
I’ve been there when I first started out. I understand that changing a rule that helped the players, but was in fact against the rules of the game, can suck when changing it. It happens though, and if your players use this as a way to treat you poorly or to incite a toxic atmosphere at the table, sometimes you just need to pack up your dice and find a new table to GM over. It can be hard finding a cohesive table, but no gaming is better than bad gaming.
When coming to the table, GMs have a lot of responsibility, and one of the most important ones is: making rulings that are fair and keep the game going.
You can hear all the silly voices and descriptive flavor text that other GMs employ and think that that is the key to success, but it isn’t.
You can see all the cool maps and miniatures that other GMs employ and think that that is the key to success, but it isn’t.
The key to success is open communication at the table, and that starts with ensuring you are making the best rulings possible. This may mean that your monsters can’t do that one cool thing you thought they could, or your players get sad because their favorite cheese combo doesn’t work how they think it should… but this is all important.
By keeping a clear set of rulings that follow the agreed upon rulebooks for your table; you can create a better gaming experience for everyone… and you can be confident that even if something is ruled wrongly at first, that you can change that in the future.