Running a game is an art, not a science.
That being the case there is no magic formula, that makes it work. It’s a lot of judgment and finesse. As an activity it is full of pitfalls and tribulations, in short it’s easy to screw up.
Almost everybody I play with does it very well. Cruising assorted gaming forums and PbP environments, I am seeing a trend toward “Gotcha Gamemastering.”
Allow me to explain the term. One of the first games I ran was possibly cyberpunk or something similar (definitely something like that I don’t remember what it was). Anyway I felt pretty clever, I was going to blow up one of the players cars, just as soon as they failed to explicitly check their car for explosives. I did it, and my players were annoyed, as they should have been. It was an A-hole thing to have done.
That’s what I mean by Gotcha Gamemastering, waiting for your players to fail to explicitly opt out of being an idiot. The problem with that is that players will eventually tell you that they do something moronic. They will do it intentionally it will often come under the guise of “plan A”. Waiting for the players to “screw up” is unnecessary and it certainly does not constitute good Gamemastering.
It falls basically into the same category as Railroading. You are taking choice away from the players, and choice, in a role-playing game is all there is. I’ve said before that railroading to some degree is necessary, but you must at least leave some illusion of choice. All Gotcha Gamemastering leaves a player with is…
(does anybody want this as their GM?)