onegeeklogo6Dear One Geek,

How does one deal with a Game Master who is blatantly unfair?  I’m talking about folks who run games who either pandering to certain players, or apply different standards to different players?

I recently had an experience where I was given the short end of the stick while the (very attractive) girl in the game could do whatever she wanted, and got all the best toys.

How would you suggest handling a situation like this?


– Wants Fair Play

Dear Fair Play,

The first thing to do in any situation where you feel you are being wronged is to take a step back and make sure you’re being unbiased yourself. Give yourself some time to look at the scenarios with as un-biased an eye as possible and take note of specific situations where you feel rules calls have been made incorrectly in favor of the other player, or against you. Are there any extenuating circumstances that might have been in play? Is the special treatment you feel the other player is receiving a one-time-thing, or is it an on-going problem? Was your ill treatment in one particular situation, or has it been a problem over multiple game sessions? Is it possible that your perceptions are affecting how you view the situation, or is the favoritism blatantly clear to the group as a whole?

If you’ve taken a good look at the situation and you still feel that the GM is being blatantly unfair, the first step should be to discuss the situation with the GM in question. It’s possible that they haven’t realized that they’re being unfair, or that they have a reason for doing what they’re doing. (I had one Game Master who delighted in giving players exactly what they wanted – with high prices that only became apparently later on!)  They may feel the other player is a weaker roleplayer and needs a little rules-bending to stay alive and active in the game, or they may see her as not as committed to the game as the rest of the players, and are trying to bribe her to stay involved. While this may not be strictly fair, it does happen in games and how acceptable or unacceptable it is depends on the group in question and what they consider allowable. Many games have “house rules” or other sorts of rules variations or “wiggle room” on rules calls. And, as long as that is okay with everyone involved, that’s fine. Discussing your perceptions (and citing examples) with the GM in a non-accusatory manner might bring you more information about how they see the situation, and what the group as a whole has come to expect.

If, however, the GM denies any unfairness despite your examples, and you’re unable to come to an understanding about the nature of the problem, you have a couple of options:

You can bite the bullet and continue to play the game, realizing that the GM’s calls are not going to be fair. If you’re enjoying the roleplay and socialization with the game group despite the unfairness, or if the GM is fair most of the time and the bias is limited in scope, then this may be the best way to handle the situation.

Alternately, you can continue to play with the group and point out any instances where you perceive unfairness as they arise. This may work with some groups and some GMs, but it can be tricky to handle. While you may prevent the GM from being quite so willing to flex the rules in favor of one player, it might also get you a reputation as a wet blanket, especially if the rest of the group is willing to go along with the GM’s calls. It may also not change the GM’s behavior – in most games, ultimately, the GM’s decisions are final, and if the rest of the group is okay with what’s happening, you constantly pointing out the inequalities may detract from the overall enjoyment of the group. If the rest of the group is equally as frustrated with the GM’s bias, however, they may get on the band wagon and insist on fairness as well.

You could also offer to GM for the group, and lead by example. Perhaps the GM is inexperienced or just has a difficult time saying no to that particular player. (This can happen frequently when one of the players is a spouse or romantic partner of the GM and expects special treatment, and the repercussions for saying “no” to them goes far beyond the gaming table.) By sharing the GM duties, you might be able to help make the situation more fair, and that situation may continue once you step back into your role as a player and the original GM returns to lead the game.

If discussion and requests for more fairness are ignored, however, and the situation is causing more negativity for you than the game is bringing enjoyment, ultimately you may want to leave the game. I think it’s completely acceptable to let the GM and other players know why you are doing so, as long as you do so in a polite fashion. “I don’t feel the rules are being equally applied to everyone. Although I’ve attempted to discuss the matter with the GM, they don’t seem interested in running the kind of game I’m interested in playing – one where the rules are the same for all players – so I won’t be continuing to play.”

I’m responding to this, assuming that the game in question is a small private game with no overseeing body. In a situation where the game is a part of a larger whole (in RPGA or other gaming associations, or a large LARP with a rules structure bigger than just one GM) there may be a means already established to file a complaint. This gives you another option – appealing to a higher authority. Like the other options above, this should be pursued only after attempting to have a polite conversation with the person in question – discussion and diplomacy are always a good place to start. Sometimes they can bring about change, and if they don’t – well, at least you’ve already made an attempt to do so.

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