Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Nuts & Bolts #85 - Skills for a GM
So recently (as in this past weekend) a friend asked what it took to be able to GM a game. He's played a little bit of Cypher System before, and I think perhaps some D&D but this was the first time he'd expressed interest in GMing (at least to me). I gotta say that the question was an interesting one because it immediately got three different answers from the other three of us at the table. We mostly agreed with each other in a general sense, but each had different thoughts on what was most important, which I found interesting.
So what jumped to my mind first? For me it's knowledge of the rules, at least well enough to be able to at worst reference the book only once or twice in a session. Obviously this has a certain scale to it. A new GM , or a GM running a new system gets more leeway, but in general I feel that the GM should be capable enough with the rules not only to be able to play and run the game, but they must be able to teach the game as well (though they may not need to). This doesn't have to mean that they can recite every rule as written, but a solid understanding is needed, and helps to facilitate being able to make a ruling on the fly to keep the game going (instead of diving into the book to see how something should be done).
What else? Improvisational skills are pretty useful, as even the best written adventure and the most "behaved" group of players will probably find a way to make their GM improvise. It may be simple PC to NPC interactions where the GM needs to make the town mayor interesting beyond simply being a quest giver. Or it may require being able to recover smoothly when a player comes up with an idea that or executes an action that wasn't accounted for in the session design. At the other end some GMs plan very little beyond a few key moments and improvise the rest of the time.
If you're using an established setting you probably should have a decent knowledge of the setting to work with. Hopefully at least enough to know what kind of things fit in the genre and themes without standing out weirdly. Of course if you make your own setting you will need to know enough about it to answer questions, or be able to improvise answers and make notes as you add those facts to your creation.
There's also some value in doing the work and prepping for a game when you are GM. Again, being able to improvise is nice, but it helps to at least be prepared with some degree of story plan or the like. The less comfortable with improv you are the more planning time you should probably spend.
But what about you my readers? What skills do you think a GM needs to have to run a game? What do you say to a person asking about GMing for the first time? Hit the comments, I'm curious to see what other people have to say.