Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Roundtable #5: GMing Weakness

Another month, another GM Roundtable post.

The Game Masters' Roundtable of Doom is a meeting of the minds of tabletop RPG bloggers and GMs. 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'd like to submit a topic for our future discussions, or if you're a blogger who'd like to participate in the Game Master's Roundtable of Doom, send an email to Lex Starwalker at gamemastersjourney@gmail.com.

This month's topic comes to us courtesy of Marc Plourde:

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?

I will start off my response to these questions by saying that I've been racking my brain trying to figure out exactly what my GMing skills are in the first place, let alone which ones I'm weak at. GMing is the intersection between improvisation, story telling, description, and referee/arbiter. These categories can then be unpacked into a myriad of subtopics (e.g. improvisation of names and/or dialogue).

I guess my biggest flaw as a GM is that I have a limited range when it comes to campaign, story, or adventure "types." I always tend to run grim campaigns, punctuated by fun, which revolve around players "following" a series of encounters. These tend to be fantasy or action games. I do not/have not run straight horror (e.g. Call of Cthullu), never touched a White Wolf game, and I've never run a "story game." Though I've played in a variety of games, I tend to GM only a narrow range of structure.

The major reason for this style stagnation is that I tend to avoid games or styles that I've never experienced before. This tends to exclude a lot of games from being considered. I think part of this is GMing preference; I've spent a lot of time figuring out my GMing role/duties for principally D&D-like RPGs, so games that really mess with the PC-GM relationship can be hard for me to wrap my head around completely. This leaves me only considering more traditional games like D&D-likes, Feng Shui, Dark Heresy, WFRP, etc.

I've tried to break this habit many times. I own and have read a few "story games," but I tend to worry that I won't be able to capture that games "experience" correctly. Which is a fairly absurd statement to make, as I consider all RPG experiences where everyone had fun are "correct." My standard reason for not playing the game is that "I want to play in a game first and see how someone else runs it." I've found this a lot harder than expected as it tends to be that if you've found a system you want to play, 9 times out of 10 you'll be the one who has to run it.

I should probably consider reading blogs and articles that deal specifically with how to run these types of games. Topics similar to describing the nature of prep, rules specific considerations for spotlight sharing, example GM table notes, and set-up/experience buy-ins. These are my biggest concerns as they represent the basic design constraints inherent in my games.

Maybe this should be my project for the next month+. Pick a more avant garde RPG, read the rules, read some advice articles/blog entries, and run a one-shot. I'm considering Primetime Adventures as I got my Kickstarter copy a few weeks ago, though I'd be open to more suggestions if people have them.

Here are some other blogs participating in the forum.


  1. An important thing to keep in mind is that most modern story games (like most modern games) are designed to naturally channel the activities of the GM in a productive sense, and make running the game easier. If you feel like you're fighting the system to make the game X when you run it, then either it was designed poorly for its purpose, or you and the system have perpendicular ideas about what the game is about.

    That doesn't mean watching an Actual Play or two on Youtube of that system can hurt though, I find it helps to jazz me up and see what parts of the system might be sticking points and that I should go study up on.

    1. Also, PTA is a great game. My best advice there is to have as few expectations about the subject matter as possible before you sit down to the first session; the collaborative aspect of the scenario and characters is pretty critical, as everyone needs a strong buy-in to follow every character's plotline.