Articles Comments

The Douchey DM » Adventure Design, Advice, General Gaming, Inspiration, Misc » Evolution of a GM part 6: My top ten.

Evolution of a GM part 6: My top ten.

Welcome back to Evolution of a GM for the final installment where I climb up to the top of my ivory tower and tell you all about how to be a great gamemaster using a few key things I pull out of the well of wisdom that is my experience. Alright, so not really, but I will use my time as a GM to tell you what I learned in the form of my Top 10 Rules to Gamemastering. I don’t pretend to think that these rules are gospel in any way. Afterall, I’ve only been running games now for six years I don’t have the wealth of experience of some other people you may have the pleasure to learn from. I have had the opportunity to learn though, and I want to share what I’ve learned with all of you.

Rule #10: Be Prepared.

This sounds stupid to have as a rule, but it’s important. Make sure you have a full story in mind, make sure your NPCs are completely statted out, make sure you have names ready, and make sure you know enough about the game rules to sit down and actually adjudicate the game. Because remember, you are not just the storyteller, you are also the referee, the final arbiter of your game.

Rule #9: Understand the key points of storytelling.

If your goal were to bake a cake and you just randomly tossed unmeasured amounts of flour, eggs, sugar, and butter into a bowl and mixed it together before baking it in the oven, chances are you would end up with something downright horrible in the end. Same thing goes with gaming. Follow a recipe. The best recipe for gaming is to imagine your storyline as a sort of off center bell curve. You ramp up the action at a steady pace until you hit your climax about three quarters of the way through, and then slowly back it off again. That’s fairly standard in storytelling of all kinds. Just like any recipe though, there is room to experiment. Once you get used to the basics you can change up that bell curve in many different ways.

Rule #8: Always push for something more.

I stated this before as “don’t be a douche, but push your players.” I still stand by that, but I think what’s better to understand is just keep pushing for more. Don’t get comfortable. The second you accept the everyday normal session as ok for you, is the second you lose what gaming can be. Always look for something new to put into your games, whether it be changing up the flow of a story or even turning the entire idea of a hero onto its head. Change is the key to great Gamemastering.

Rule #7: Do your research

Your brain is only going to give you so much by way of creative ideas. Some more than others, but at some point you’re going to need some help. So, do some research. Running a fantasy game? Read Lord of the Rings again (because you have read it already right?) or grab one of those famous Drizzt novels. A superhero game? Watch X-men, read a few comics, watch the Avengers cartoon. It works for any genre, and ideas from one genre can even be adapted to another. Sure Bladerunner is a sci-fi movie, but that doesn’t mean that the basic storyline can’t be adapted to a steampunk game.

Rule #6: Take the help that is offered to you.

The internet is insanely full of things that can help make it easier for you to run any kind of game. There are alternate character sheets, homebrew rules, and even random guides and flowcharts. For example, recently I’ve started looking into running a Star Trek game in Savage worlds. The idea was a little daunting to say the least, but was definitely something I wanted to try. With just a little time of searching I found a completely premade Star Trek skin for the Savage Worlds system complete with its own special character sheet. The internet is going to be just as valuable a GM tool as your game book.

Rule #5: Have an open mind.

It’s pretty rare that you and your players are always going to see eye to eye. There will at some point be a moment when you and they have a difference of opinion. When that happens, have an open mind and don’t immediately shut them down. Remember, this is their game too, let them expand themselves and experiment now and then.

Rule #4: Know your players.

I can’t stress enough how much this means in your games. Knowing your players can dramatically change your gaming experience. It allows you the opportunity to sort of telegraph your story in ways that you know will engross them, and you can also pull a more visceral reaction out of them if you know how they are going to be in certain situations. Not to mention it cuts down on those “oh shit” moments when they do something you completely don’t expect!

Rule #3: Know yourself.

In much the same way that knowing your players is key, so is knowing yourself. In order to run an effectively fun and enjoyable game you have to understand what you want out of the game. You are of course running the game, so you probably more than anyone else need to be invested in what’s going on. If you are creating a pulp detective game and you can’t stand those, then no one is going to have fun in the end.

Rule #2: Organize, organize, organize!

Nothing will help you more than being an organized gamemaster. Keeping notes on the characters, keeping notes on your ideas, and keeping all of it in such a way that you can access it quickly and easily will be the easiest way to cut down on your headaches at the table. Stu Venable of the Happy Jacks podcast likes to say that there is better life(and gaming) through the use of office supplies and I have to agree, but I also have to add in there that there is also better gaming through the use of scrapbooking supplies as well. Check out my organization video on YouTube here.

Rule #1: You will make mistakes, but you MUST learn from them.

I went over this in my first article, but it’s something that does need reinforcing. Whatever you do, don’t let your fears of failure stop you from telling your story. In most cases, even a gamemaster failure can turn into something fun, and as long as people are having fun you’re doing it right. Take a deep breath and dive right in, it can’t be as bad as you think it might be. At the risk of receiving a cease and desist order… Just Do It.

So there we go, the sixth and final installment of Evolution of a GM. I hope you took something from this article series, and I hope it does something to improve your games. If not, hey I tried.

Written by

SirGuido has been a Happy Jack's RPG fan since the first moment he heard Stu on Kicked in the Dicebags. He hopes one day that he will get to meet all of these great people and play lots of games with them.

Filed under: Adventure Design, Advice, General Gaming, Inspiration, Misc · Tags: , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to "Evolution of a GM part 6: My top ten."

  1. JazzIsBluesNo Gravatar says:

    Good article Guido, lots of really good thoughts in here. I would add one idea to your list. Call it JiB’s rule #11.

    Play to your strengths. Know what you’re good at and work with it. If you’re not a thespian don’t push that. Work on it, but don’t push it. If you’re strong with mechanics work with that go with it. Remember that the goal is a fun game for everyone.

    Great article Guido, keep ’em coming.


  2. SirGuidoNo Gravatar says:

    I get you on playing to your strengths, and I sort of see that as part of rule #3. Thanks for the comment!

Leave a Reply