Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Getting Better All The Time

Noisms strikes again!

It's not enough for him that he constantly comes up with interesting and thought provoking posts. Oh no, that would be sufficient for most game bloggers. For Noisms, there must be the added elements of inspiration and a thinly veiled challenge.

Well played Monsters and Manuals. Well played.

In one of his most recent posts, Noisms makes note of what he perceives to be an area of oversight in the blog community and it is this...

"It's interesting, don't you think, that learning from other people's DMing style is something that is almost never remarked upon in the RPG blogosphere? It's often noted that people who blog are very good at creating content (monsters, spells, maps, etc.) but very poor at discussing more fundamental issues like how to be a good DM. I'm reminded once again of Zeb Cook's advice in the 2nd edition AD&D DMG: "Take the time and effort to become not just a good DM, but a brilliant one". That must start off with learning from others, but in general it is something we tend not to talk about."

I commented on this post that for the most part I don't believe that the majority of well followed game blogs actually create much content of the nature he describes. Certainly Jeff Rients, James of GROGNARDIA and Zak at PD&DwPS keep such posts to a minimum.

Noisms agreed but stated...

"But you still don't see many people talking about how to be a better GM. For what it's worth, I'm not very interested in lecture style, "How to be a better GM" posts. I'm more interested in "How I am trying to be a better GM" posts, or perhaps "This is what I have learned about my GMing" posts. If you see what I mean."

I like to think that many of my posts have, largely indirectly mind you, spoken about this in one way or another. Certainly some of my Star Trek ones have, although they may have been more lecture-like (I apologize) and specific to that setting/style.

I think one of the reoccurring features I'll introduce this year is going to revolve around this concept. I want to pass on what I've learned and hopefully help younger, less experienced GMs improve their craft. Honestly it would work better and be much more effective if I wasn't the only one doing it, as I don't believe myself to be the end all, be all of GMing. Rather, I hope some of what I do and have learned will rub off on others while they look for other ideas from other GMs and eventually mix, match and make up their own way of handling things.

With that, my first piece of GMing advice is born...

If you want to improve your craft as a Gamemaster, you have to want to improve your craft as a Gamemaster.

Don't just read and do. Think about it. Ask why a GM does a thing a certain way. Seek out other opinions. Look for more information. Constantly want to do it better. Never assume you can just sit back and let it happen. Work for it. 

More to Come...

Barking Alien


  1. This is a particularly timely topic for me specifically as I'm getting ready to run a one-shot at an upcoming con. It's been ages since I've done any proper GMing--and I wasn't ever overly confident about my ref skills to begin with. So any and all lessons I can learn are greatly appreciated. I'm all ears!

  2. I think I lean more towards your interpretation of what's out there. On the other hand, that's what I'm reading for those kinds of ideas. So I usually skip other things like new monsters, the relative merits of various OSR games, and so on. So that immediate filter gives me a skewed perception on what's out the in total. I will say one of the more useful tricks I've discovered this year is watching some games run via G+ Hangouts. If people use the "On Air" option you can watch a YouTube video of the session. That's even more useful than just listening to the audio of a game.

  3. This will probably spark a blog post of my own as I find the "Expert DM Advice" type posts iffy and can't stand most of the sites that tout themselves as "experts". There's too much ego in most of them and I try to stay away from doing that on my own.

    That said I might have some actual useful opinions on this. The short version is that there is very little "generic" DMing advice that is worth anything or applicable to your specific game and players. The best way to get better is to do it! Regularly! Playing with other DM's is good experience, reading about it online is of limited usefulness beyond the most basic advice, and suffering through it is the best teacher.

    1. No one said they were experts, or at the very least I know I didn't and don't.

      What the hell is an expert GM? Every GM has their own style and technique and likewise each group a type of GM that works for them or doesn't.

      What it boils down to is this, at least for me:

      If you are getting more praise than complaints, you are a successful GM.

      If there are more people leaving your game talking about it than not, you are a successful GM.

      If you have more people asking you to run another session game than not, you are a successful GM.

      If players you haven't played with in 10 years remember all the details of your games with them, you are a successful GM.

      If these things are not happening, do not fret and do not panic. Get active and read how other people are making it work, watch the youtube G+ games Lowell mentioned and practice, practice, practice as Blacksteel suggests.

      I will be talking about some of my approaches and experiences but be aware, my group and I are a bit atypical and we mostly play Science Fiction and Superheroes.

      If I can help a fellow GM get more out of what they put into their game, in any way, It would be huge for me. Let me know who it goes.

  4. No, no one in this discussion is claiming Expert status - it's just something I see that sets me off. It's probably a big factor in why I don't do "advice" type posts - I don't want to come across to others the way those people come across to me.

    Back to this discussion: I think it's easier to identify a successful DMing run than it is to codify the things that make for a successful run, at least in a "universal rule" sense. On a one-off level it's very easy - ask the players what they like about it. The main issue is that those things may not apply to a different DM, game, or group.

    Regardless, if people keep showing up you're doing something right . That's the most universal rule about this kind of thing that I know.

    1. You do bring up a good point Blacksteel. Actually two!

      Noisms made the point that not enough bloggers give advice on how to run a good game. OK, fine, let's accept that statement as correct. Why don't they? Better yet, what's a good game?

      While coming off as an egomaniac may indeed be a factor, I think the bigger issue maybe what I eluded to in my post and you mentioned here...

      If I give you advice on how to ad lib or think of things off the cuff better, maybe that will help you as a GM no matter your group or the game you're playing.

      On the other hand, any recommendations I can give you on how to be funny and/or maintain a cohesive story in a comedic game setting is useless if you are playing a serious game with guys who left their funny bones behind in the same blood-soaked ditch where their PCs had to bury their dead partner after the KGB got wind of their latest assignment.

      Yes, surprising as it sounds, my Muppets RPG notes are of very little assistance to those running Advanced RECON.

      If I like a political game and you like a fast paced action adventure game, can I help you? If I run Science Fiction and have advice handling space combat while most people are playing D&D, is it useful to them?

      The short answer is, "I'm not sure". I'm really not positive if I have all that much advice to give that will fit what it is you (all of you reading this) do and the style of game you like.

      The more realistic answer is, it's probably not those elements that make you an effective GM, especially if you've run multiple popular campaigns in a variety of different systems and/or genres. No, it's something you do that others don't or at the very least, something they don't do enough of that many people seems to enjoy.

  5. I'm trying to put my thoughts together on this for a post of my own and this is the real sticky part. There's practical advice on how to run a specific game or genre but then there's the whole "what makes a good DM" in general and that's so dependent on the players that I don't know you can do much advising on it. My players might love the way I am running my D&D game while yours might hate it - am I a bad DM or a good DM? Should I even care about what other players might like if I have a steady group that likes the way I do things? I think the dynamic of a roleplaying group is such that it's hard to advise someone on how to be a good DM because it's not solely dependent on that one person - it's more like a band. There are different roles within the group but it's the group as a whole that makes the magic, not any one member, and that magic is unique to that group of people and possibly even to that time and place. Still pondering, but that's where I am right now.

    1. Yes! My dear friend you have hit it squarely on the noggin' and rattled its teeth!

  6. I just let my group of 4 level 8-9's(while playing 2 characters that were not their own) beat a level 19 demon.
    I suck at GM'ing...*cries*

    1. You sir, do not suck. I am unsure of how the above encounter ended as it did but I do know you do not suck.

      What went wrong my brother?

      Actually, I'm just happy to hear you still get to play at all. What group is this you speak of? Hit me up on Facebook and tell me more.

  7. what i find interesting to read is not only "how" people do something, but "why". if i get an idea of what they tried to accomplish with their way of doing stuff, i get a lot out of a post.

    1. Ooh, great point indeed. Maybe the why also makes you ask yourself the same question of your own stuff.