Often times people think that being a Game Master means simply having a story that you want to tell, writing some names down, and then throwing some monsters in for the players to fight. While this is true for the game side of things, what people (and many players) don’t realize is what a GM must be in addition to this: A host, psychologist, diplomate, teacher, judge, and executioner. Each one of these roles is an integral part in keeping the players happy, the game running smoothly, and everybody getting along for just enough time to get a session completed.
Even if the games are not played at the GM’s dwelling, it is ultimately up to them to make sure that the players are comfortable in their environment, that the table is properly prepared, and everyone is sitting where they are least likely to cause trouble. Little ways in accomplishing this are to make sure that everyone has a chair and the table is well lit. Make sure that you have everything that you need near and at hand so that there is no “now where did I put my thoqqua figure” occasions. And if you have two players who are a little (out-of-character) chattier than you would like during the game, then it is up to you to make sure that they either know to keep it down or that they don’t sit next to each other.
The same goes if you have two players who you know are prone to arguments and sporadic outbreaks of violence. You must know the signs for when a player is getting upset and be able to intervene before things become elevated – Often times taking a quick break or smoothly changing the subject can put these outbursts in check, but if not then you need to know what will pacify the raging nerd. There is no point in being subtle here, though usually you don’t want to do this in front of the group, so pulling the upset individual aside to hash out the disagreement is often the best solution.
This can work when two players are hashing it out, as well. Treat this like a debate; give each player their chance to produce their concerns, either until they come to an agreement or you step in as moderator and decide for them. If you must make a GM ruling between two players, nobody will ever walk away completely happy (except for you, maybe) – either both players will get what they want (which is doubtful) or they will get at least some of what they want (more than likely). In either cause, you need to make sure that the players understand your decision is final and that you are doing this for the best interest of them and the game. Above all, make sure you are consistent. Players are like elephants: They will stomp on your chest and crush your ribcage if you piss them off. And they will remember when you make the same decision two different ways, so write stuff down.
And while it may be the toughest thing that a GM has to do, sometimes people just don’t get along. At this point you need to step back and think “who is the problem” and fix it. Are you just not a good GM? Are you not giving the other players what they want so they’re bored? Is Jim just a dickwolf who only gets along with his mom? Is Nancy really just not getting the meaning of role playing? Now is when you take a deep breath, survey the situation, and tell Mark that you think he should really find a different group to play with, because while you really enjoy is emersion in the game, you really don’t appreciate him simulating “Santiago the Horse-Man” having sex with the barmaid by getting on top of the table and humping your figure – that’s $8.95 that you can never get back now.
Just remember: Talk to your players and make sure they talk to you. It’s amazing how many issues a quick five minute conversation can solve. And when in doubt, mass graves are never a good idea – they make it easier to find the bodies.