Use GM Merit Badges to Set Player Expectations

Mar 27

Use GM Merit Badges to Set Player Expectations

I think it can be a nice touch to set player expec­ta­tions (espe­cially if it is a multi-session cam­paign you are plan­ning) about the nature and tone of the game you’ll be run­ning. One nice tool for this is GM Merit Badges which serve as a great check list of things to con­sider telling your play­ers about your GM’ing style.

Here is my GM’ing style (at least, when run­ning Sav­age Worlds, my sys­tem de jour) as defined by GM Merit Badges:

 

 My games will tell an inter­est­ing Story

 

 My games focus on inter­est­ing Char­ac­ters and Drama

 

 Char­ac­ters in my games are Des­tined for great­ness, not ran­dom death 1

 

My games use a pre-made Map and pre-scripted con­tent

 

My games rely on a lot of Impro­vi­sa­tion rather than pre-scripted con­tent 2

 

I roll Dice in the open and don’t fudge the results in my games

 

My game has Shared GMing respon­si­bil­ity with the other play­ers 3

 

My games are more of the Social, Fun and “Beer & Pret­zels” style

 

Here is my take on a typ­i­cal ‘Old School DM’ approach for exam­ple (which is dif­fer­ent than how I’m run­ning Sav­age Worlds at the moment):

  • I fre­quently Tin­ker with the rules of the game
  • Play­ers in my game should be pre­pared to Run when the odds are against them
  • My games rely on a lot of Impro­vi­sa­tion rather than pre scripted con­tent 
  • Play­ers char­ac­ters Death is a likely event in my games
  • My games are more of the Social, Fun and “Beer & Pret­zels” style
  • The GM is In Charge in my games and “rule-zero” is in effect

Here is a full list­ing of the ‘GM Merit Badge’ attrib­utes which you can tell play­ers about (in addi­tion to sys­tem rules and house rules):

  • Tac­tics are an impor­tant part of my games
  • My games will tell an inter­est­ing Story
  • My games will be Scary
  • My games focuses on Explo­ration & Mys­tery
  • There will be Player vs Player com­bat allowed in my games
  • My games are Safe and you don’t need to worry about con­tent or char­ac­ter death 
  • I will Mir­ror back player ideas I think are inter­est­ing in the game
  • My games use a pre-made Map and pre scripted con­tent 
  • My games rely on a lot of Impro­vi­sa­tion rather than pre scripted con­tent 
  • My games are Gonzo and can include a lot of strange­ness
  • Char­ac­ters in my games are Des­tined for great­ness, not ran­dom death
  • I roll Dice in the open and don’t fudge the results in my games
  • My games include Dis­turb­ing con­tent
  • My games focus on inter­est­ing Char­ac­ters and Drama 
  • Play­ers char­ac­ters Death is a likely event in my games
  • I play By-The-Book and “rule-zero” is not being used to alter exist­ing rules
  • My games are more of the Social, Fun and “Beer & Pret­zels” style
  • My game is pri­mar­ily Non-Combat in nature
  • Play­ers in my game should be pre­pared to Run when the odds are against them
  • My game has Shared GMing respon­si­bil­ity with the other play­ers
  • I fre­quently Tin­ker with the rules of the game
  • My game focuses on Player Skill rather than char­ac­ter abil­i­ties


  1. Which is not to say I won’t let char­ac­ters die, but if won’t be a ‘rocks fall, every­one dies’ event which feels out­side player con­trol when it hap­pens.
  2. I use what seem to be self-contradictory meth­ods — “pre-scripted con­tent” and “Impro­vi­sa­tion”. I use both — pre-scripted con­tent which forms the back­bone of a larger plot, but about 25–50% of game­play is Sand­box impro­vi­sa­tion — char­ac­ters go off the rails and take the story in new direc­tions, have character-initiated sub-quests and the like. I use essen­tially the Mouseguard-style Play­ers Turn and GM’s Turn with both meth­ods in play.
  3. By this I mean a house rule where play­ers “nom­i­nate” other play­ers for ben­nies (though not them­selves.)

One comment

  1. Ross /

    I like this idea as an exer­cise! I think that every GM would like to have the “story” badge and would include it in their list. My badges would be;

    “Tac­tics are an impor­tant part of my games”

    “My games focuses on Explo­ration & Mys­tery”

    “I will Mir­ror back player ideas I think are inter­est­ing in the game”

    “My games use a pre-made Map and pre scripted con­tent”

    “My games rely on a lot of Impro­vi­sa­tion rather than pre scripted con­tent”

    “My games include Dis­turb­ing con­tent”

    “I play By-The-Book and “rule-zero” is not being used to alter exist­ing rules”

    “Play­ers in my game should be pre­pared to Run when the odds are against them”

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