Please welcome Helmsman, our newest contributor at The Core Mechanic! Helmsman is the primary force behind the blog "Taking the Wheel of Modern Role Playing Games", so make sure to jump over there and check out his other work too!
When I run games I take player trust very seriously, to illustrate: White Wolf Games has an addendum called "The Golden Rule". This basically amounts to: if a particular mechanic in their rules doesn't fit, a Storyteller has the right to alter it. The spirit of this rule is that the story should always come before the mechanics.
Now, when I am GM’ing I only apply The Golden Rule in a particular way: If I have a rule I want to change, I announce it prior to the game starting and explain that it's been changed and is now that way permanently. It becomes a house-rule and for my game is set in stone and I make that clear. I do this because I don't want to be dropping rule inconsistencies on my players mid-game.
Some Storytellers I know use The Golden Rule as their own special "[I]t happens that way kuz I say so" excuse, which might be valid but I can't tolerate it. If my story has a situation where an NPC is supposed to die but a player does something unexpected and saves that NPC, I would never ever rule that the NPC dies anyway, to do so would rob the player of his victory and destroy any trust he has in my game. On the same token, if a player reacts poorly to a situation and makes things worse I believe it would be a disservice to pull punches in my reaction. This is in direct contrast to the ST's I know who make extensive use of The Golden Rule. They like to make arbitrary things occur for no good reason forcing unwanted situations on their players just because. And, if the shit hits the fan for real, they'll pull punches to prevent character death.
I once read somewhere that a competent leader needs yell only to get someones attention, once he has that attention continuing to yell only illustrates an inability to communicate. I liken The Golden Rule to that: one can use it to make things work if he needs to, but overusing it just shows that he never knew how to work things in the first place.
Overuse of golden rules shows that the GM needs to control every facet of the game, this GM will likely have a set story and won't let the players deviate from it. This might very well create an extremely compelling story but I still think that sort of behavior from a GM is inexcusable. Roleplaying is about interaction and teamwork and allowing the players to feel empowered. If someone wants to have full control over a story he can write a book, beyond that the only reason one would ever need such complete control of a game would be because he's an insecure twat that secretly desires to hold something over his friends.
So, in parting, how have you used The Golden Rule in your game? Is it something that comes up often, or do you keep only as a last resort. Leave a comment and let us know!