It was still active (Wow!) so I logged in and found this article. I present it as a "blast from the past". Unedited by my current thoughts and sensibilities. Let's see how it holds up...
Trust in Gaming
One, its the right thing to do. When your friends come over to your house, they want to have fun. They don't want to take part in something that isn't enjoyable. If they wanted to do that, they'd go to work or mow the lawn. A game that doesn't follow these tenets just isn't fun.
Two, I dislike rules heavy games (AD&D 3.5 I'm looking at you!) and so I run my games fast and loose. Right or wrong, I like to think of my RPG sessions as a type of freeform jazz -- we start off in a direction and then we roll with it. I build a lot of randomness and freedom into the game. Anyway, when you play off the cuff, there's a lot of GM fiat. This makes some players nervous because they don't always know what is going to happen next. They don't know exactly how their powers work (Champions! You heard me!) If you try to run your games with these tenets, the players will trust that you'll give them a fair shake. It's a partnership where we are all invested in having fun and telling a compelling story.
I'm not perfect -- no one is -- but I try to run my RPGs according to the following tenets. I think that more times than not, I do a good job and I pull it off. It has taken me years to refine my GMing skills. I offer the following to anyone who is thinking about running a tabletop RPG game.
concept map put together showing the relationships between the heroes, villains, places and things. I have a rough flow chart showing the plot as I envision it. I'm open if the characters want to go in a different direction and I'm ready to improvise, but I have some resources to help me roll with it.
Exempli gratia: Years ago I kicked off my first campaign with an adventure involving a wyrm (a giant flightless dragon.) The scenario involved a wyrm that was menacing caravans on a well traveled trade route. The heroes were hired as guards for a particularly valuable shipment. My ideas was that the wyrm was just hungry and was attacking the caravans as a ready source of horseflesh. Yummy.
Then I overheard my players discussing how the wyrm must be controlled by a mage. They had seen a pattern in the descriptions of the caravan merchandise that was lost/stolen (one I hadn't intended) and had reasoned that a mage must be responsible.I quickly sketched a cavern complex, reasoned that the wyrm would have a "magic collar" that would allow the mage to control it, and whipped up a small group of brigands that would help the mage pillage the caravans. Presto. Instant improved adventure.
Furthermore, when they do exciting and fun things, give them a payback. Give them a clue, item, contact, complication, etc. Something that says, "well done, here's another chance for you to shine." You can award them with "metagame" things too like experience points or FATE points. The point is, the award is positive feedback that says "keep it up, keep doing that." That's what you want from your players.
red shirt to show them how deadly. I like FATE and Fudge because they have "taken out" as the final stage in the character damage track. This could mean that the hero is unconscious or otherwise disabled an not able to continue. Not necessarily dead.
Now if the players do something patently stupid. Kill their character. They're asking for it. If you adhere to a player-centric, story based game where the heroes often get out of tough spots by the skin of their teeth, some players will interpret this as weakness on the part of the GM. "I can do anything and he won't kill me." Wrong. If they are stupid, make them pay for their stupidity. They should have seen it coming. Being fair doesn't mean being a pushover. Just make sure that if a character dies it is either dramatically appropriate (my paladin died fighting the demon queen so that everyone else could get away and all the children would be saved from her clutches) or it is the players legitimate fault (you mean I can't jump off of a cliff? Oh, dragons are deadly. I probably shouldn't have doused myself in gasoline and then lit up a smoke.) Give them the chance to act in a rational fashion, if they refuse, it's their funeral.