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The Douchey DM » Adventure Design, Advice, General Gaming, Inspiration, Misc » JiB on GM’ing: Managing Fear

JiB on GM’ing: Managing Fear

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Gina Ricker who kept me sane through the couple of weeks leading up to Gateway. Her insights and thoughtful comments helped me get my games ready to play, and her support and confidence kept me moving when my own fear and doubt might well have scuttled my games. “Thank you,” will never be enough to show you what it means to me G. JiB


I had several conversations with different gm’s at Gateway and I kept hearing a common theme. It was a theme that had been going through my head for weeks. It centers around fear, fear that we won’t finish, fear that nobody will want to play, fear that the game will suck and the players will hate it. These fears are born out of our own self-doubt. Maybe I’m the only one who feels fear and doubt when I’m getting ready to run a game, but based on the conversations I had and the comments I heard I rather doubt it. My purpose in writing this is to offer some suggestions for managing the inevitable fear and doubt that comes upon everyone who runs a game.


Common GM Fears (in no particular order)


  • Nobody will come to play
  • People will come to play but they won’t like it
  • I’ll screw something up
  • I’ll end up looking like an idiot
  • Nobody will like me


Why do we feel fear? Fear grows out of uncertainty. Uncertainty is a product of all the things we don’t know and can’t control. We don’t know and can’t control whether players will come to play with us or not. We can’t actually control whether people will like what we’ve done or not. We can control whether we’re prepared or not.


There are some things we can do to mitigate the causes of fear.


  1. Be prepared – Being well prepared to run the game builds confidence. If I know that I know as much as possible about the game I’m running then if the players turn left instead of right I can make the necessary adjustments on the fly. Knowing that I’m ready to do that makes me feel more confident and that reduces fears.
  2. Be excited – Emotions tend to be infectious. If I’m excited about the game I’m going to run that is probably going to translate to the players and make it more likely that they will enjoy the game.
  3. Know Your Audience – It is a worthwhile investment to learn what sorts of games your audience likes. If the people you want to attract to your game really dig Victorian Era Steam Punk and hate Tolkienesque High Fantasy they are probably not going to sign up for a high fantasy game. Not to say that you might not want to run that high fantasy game, just that you will likely get a different group of players.
  4. Practice – This is similar to being well prepared. I spend time practicing accents that I need for games and thinking about what I’m going to say at key points so that I have a loose sort of script in my head. I’m sure that people who drive near me on my way to and from work think I’m insane (Ok that’s enough out of the lot of you) because I run “dialog” for the game I’m going to run and try to do it “in character.”
  5. Play Test – Similar to practicing, this lets you see the game and have some idea of how it’s going to play before you run it at the convention. I’ve run games without play testing, but I’m invariably more confident if I’ve run at least one play test. (There’s a reason actors and musicians rehearse)


Confidence kills fear


Anything that helps to build a gm’s confidence in the game they’re going to run and in their ability to run the game is going to alleviate fear. Knowing what you’re doing and knowing that you know what you’re doing are very good weapons against the things that cause us to have fear.


Physical Well Being


Your mother was right all along. Being well rested, alert and fed is a great way to feel better about everything in general. Get a good night’s sleep it pays. Yeah I know, “Physician heal thyself.” Whether I’m doing game prep or running a game feeling good helps alleviate the negative feelings that inhibit creativity and sap energy.


Develop a Sense of Humor


Let me ask a question. Why do we play rpg’s in the first place? It’s FUN. Have fun with what you’re doing. If game prep is a chore you’re doing something wrong and it might be a good idea to do something else for a while. We do this to have a good time with other people. Players want to have fun, gm’s want to have fun. When those fears assail us we need (more than ever) to remember that we’re doing it to have fun.




I’ve never found a way to predict how players pick games or why they pick one over another. Lots of factors get involved. Who’s running the game? What game system is being used? What genre is the game? What’s the game (blurb) sound like? Who else is playing? I’m sure a myriad of other factors get involved too. What I do know is this, when I write a game I hope that people will come play. When they come play I hope they have a good time. Until I have players at the table I will probably fret and worry, and until we’re into the game and I can see people having fun I’ll fret and worry. All along I’ll worry that I’m going to screw up. And every time I have those feelings I will try to remind myself that I’m doing this to have fun and the best I can do is prepare and be ready and hope for the best.


I hope this is helpful or at least interesting or entertaining.




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Software developer, gamer, ice hockey player, sometime musician.

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

2 Responses to "JiB on GM’ing: Managing Fear"

  1. Dod XystrasNo Gravatar says:


    Great Piece!! It’s very useful to have some one break it down the way you did, cheers me old mucker!

  2. JazzIsBluesNo Gravatar says:

    I’m very glad you liked it. It seemed important to say something because we all feel those fears and we all feel like we’re the only ones we’re the strange insecure ones. But we’re not. We all feel them and we all have to find ways to deal with them.



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