Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #31 - Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom #5 - Crossing the Divide

Image Source:

Welcome to the roundtable ... once again the GM's gather and ponder the following:
There are many different skills that come together to make up a GM. The ability to think on the fly, knowledge of the rules, plotting, etc. What skill do you think is your weakest? What have you done to try and improve that skill? What advice do you have to offer others trying to improve that skill set?
Hmm, tough question. You'd think I'd have asked myself something easier ...

Luckily I already know the answer. For me long term plotting has always been the most difficult. It's why I prefer short fiction, and its why games I run tend to be very episodic. I find this frustratingly ironic since I generally prefer long story arcs in books and TV, but there it is, I can't plot my way out of a paper bag. Which isn't to say that I don't keep trying to do so. I want to be able to run a engaging campaigns that run over the course of multiple sessions.

So how did I go about getting better at plotting? Well the first thing to do is to play games with other people, observe what they do and how, and talk to them, ask them for advice. This is especially true if you are new to GMing and you have access to somebody who has been at it for a while and does well at it. Use the resources you have, and build off the experience of those who came before.

Not everybody has ready access to another GM though, or one who is better at the skill in question. Luckily the internet has solved that problem to a degree. There are ample social network groups, blogs, and other resources you can tap into to see how other people do whatever it is that you need help with. It may take a little work, but you can probably find what you need without too much effort.

Another thing to do is ask your players for feedback. If you are having issues with pacing, ask them at the end of each session if there was too much or too little combat, or social encounters, or if things moved too slowly or quickly. Listen to what they have to say, but also be mindful that people and groups can be different, what works for some may not work for all. If you play with a single ground this is not much of a problem, you can tweak your style to what the group wants and everybody is happy, but if you play with many different groups you may need to be mindful that one group likes a faster paced action heavy game and another wants something slower with more puzzles. If you ask what they liked and didn't like and what they want and do not want they will tell you. Do this after every session, or every couple of sessions, and use their feedback to find your way.

It may seem odd, but I also think that trying other game systems can help immensely when trying to improve your GMing. You will get to see not only other ways of doing things, but you may find rules or suggestions that you can bring back to your "home system" to help you out. You may also find a system that better fits how you want to be able to run and play your games. When I first started I played crunchy systems, but played them rather fast and loose, over the years I have wandered between many systems with varying weights of rules before realizing that what I really want is a system that can mechanically support most every action but that also gets out of the way. It's a tough balance, but I think I have found a system or two that fit the bill.  That came from trial and error and seeing what other games "bring to the table" (pardon the pun).

If applicable, look at other media as well. If you feel you need help with making your action scenes more exciting watch some action movies, and then re-watch them, and then again. Pay attention to how they make you excited and what elements of those scenes work and what don't. Try to learn from what you see and bring that to the table. Read comics, and actiony books, observe how they structure things. Many elements of the games we play are inspired by other media. If you've never read a comic book or watched a superhero movie, you probably will have no idea how to run a superheroes RPG. "Go back to the source" as they say.

If all of the above don't seem to help there are two more things I can say. The first is "know your limits" if you aren't very good at long term plotting (as an example) don't set out to run an epic campaign of awesomeness right out of the gate. Start with smaller scales, two and three part stories, move on to longer and longer story arcs as you get better. That leads me to my final piece of advice ...


It's probably a little on the nose, and maybe even a little obvious, but it's the truth; practice makes perfect. The more you do something the better you will get at it, so long as you are willing to learn from your mistakes and keep trying. Above everything else practice will help improve your on all of your skills, and it will build your confidence to try and expand outside your comfort zone.


Got a question for the GM's? Ask in the comments or send it an email to and we'll put it into the hat for future round tables!


Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom

The Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom is a meeting of the minds of tabletop RPG bloggers and GMs. Every GM has his or her favorite system, but in these articles we endeavor to transcend a particular system or game and discuss topics that are relevant to GMs and players of all roleplaying games.

If you are a blogger, and you'd like to participate in the Game Master’s Roundtable of Doom, send an email to Lex Starwalker at and supply the URL of your blog.

Want to see some other blogger's takes on this subject? Check out the following (I'll add post specific links as they roll out):

+James August Walls - Successfully Offing Your Favorite Characters at

+Scott Robinson - Encoding Improvisation at

+Lex Starwalker - The Weakest Link in My GM Toolbox at

+John Marvin - Wait! Something Important! at

+John Clayton - Preparation is not a dirty word. at

+Peter Smits - GMing Weakness at

+Arnold K. - X at

+Evan Franke - Your GM Big Picture Fu is Weak at

1 comment: