Monday, 27 January 2014
How to become a more effective GM right now
Posted by Scott Malthouse
Many players who have never gamemastered before probably don't appreciate how difficult the role actually is. A GM must have dedication, great imagination and a knack for performance; qualities which are really difficult to pull off together. It's hard to keep the group on track without railroading them, or to evoke a certain atmosphere without sounding ridiculous. As a GM you're probably constantly worried about whether the group will like your adventure, whether they will unravel any plot holes that you were sure you ironed out, or whether people will want to keep on playing, full stop.
But there are some ways that you can start being a more effective GM. Here are some of those methods.
Don't Plan For Every Eventuality
I've seen a tonne of GMs making reams of notes about their next adventure, covering every little eventuality. The problem is that players will rarely go the way you want them to go and you will be tempted to railroad them back into your story. You may as well be reading them a choose your own adventure story. Players need freedom, so you need to keep your adventure notes as breezy as you can.
It's fine to plan out a story, but you must remember that this is a collaborative tale - it's not just the GM's to tell. To keep things fluid map out the main NPCs of your adventure, some setting notes and note down the types of enemies/hazards they could run into. Rather than saying "The PCs must take this path to encounter this creature before bumping into X NPC" note that "the Blackmoon Forest is inhabited by X creature and X NPC". This way, you resist the temptation to railroad and you make your setting feel more like a living place.
Know When To Get Them Back on Track
Inevitably players will go in completely the wrong direction and inevitably you panic. How can you get them back on track without seeming completely obvious? This is where your loose planning comes into play. You should simply move a location, item, or NPC that the players are meant to discover to wherever they are heading. It shouldn't be something that will end the game, but it should be something that gives them a big clue as to where they should really be going.
However, ad libbing can be difficult for some, in which case drop some hints to the players that they're going in the wrong direction or just tell them that their trail seems to be running cold. Trust me, running around in circles is going to annoy the players as much as it annoys you, so they should be grateful that you're getting them back on track.
Assign a Player the Position of 'Rules Monitor'
As a GM you've got a lot on your plate. Not only do you have to run adventures, entertain the players and take flack from being 'unfair', but much of the time you need to know a bucketload of rules. To ease this burden, ask one of the players to volunteer as a Rules Monitor, someone who researches the niggling rules that are often forgotten and reminds you to enforce them as you're playing. Having someone like this can help you out big time if you're playing a crunchy game like Shadowrun.
Read More Fiction
As part of your job you need to be able to create evocative moods and atmospheres. You need to be able to describe fight scenes, gargantuan cities and lost vistas. Building your vocabulary through reading fiction is a great way to help with your descriptions. Don't just read fiction from the genre you're playing either - different genres can help inspire you to create new storylines that players might not expect.
Stop Saying No
This is crucial GM advice. If you're saying no then you're barricading the joint story that your group is telling. Things get far more interesting when you say 'yes' or 'yes, but...'. I cannot emphasise enough how much this can change your game from mediocre to awesome. Even if there's something that seems ridiculous, find a way for the player to do it - even if it breaks the rules slightly. The main aim of playing games is to have fun. There are no winners or losers, so go crazy. The players will thank you for it.
It takes effort to become a better GM, but with these tips you can run better adventures and as a result have more fun!