‘How To Be A Good GM’ — A Bigger Question Than It Looks

Oh, no! Gaming philosophy time!

You know, a ton of stuff has been written about ‘How to be a Good Gamemaster.” Such advice usually takes the form of, ‘Do X, Y, and Z.’

That only helps as long as your players and your campaign presents you with situations to do X, Y, and Z. Trying to be a creative GM, and/or having creative players, almost guarantees that you will run into situations A, B, and C pretty soon, in which case, you’re lost.

That’s how to do good GMing. It doesn’t help you be that good GM.

It’s not too helpful, either, to provide a checklist: ‘A good GM decision is one that fulfills criteria X, Y, and Z’. This basically guarantees the fledgling GM will be paralyzed with indecision as they run every possible answer through this internal checklist, to see if it matches up to the ‘agenda’ or the ‘principles’ or whatever.

Again, that’s the difference between doing and being. I warned you there was going to be philosophy here!

I’d argue that good GMing starts when you’re far away from the game table, not even thinking about it. Public speaking. Learning how things work. Learning how people work. Learning how stories are written. Learn to do improv. Learning what makes a good game, and a bad one. You need to internalize all this stuff, form a coherent whole out of it, and contextualize what you know for each new situation you encounter, with confidence and, dare I say it, panache.

Of course, no one got rich writing books saying, ‘What you want to do is very difficult if you want to really excel, and I can’t tell you everything you need to know here.’ ?

I don’t post this to discourage! What you need to realize is that ‘How to be a Good GM’ is like ‘How to be a Good Cook’ or ‘How to be a Good Teacher’ — it’s actually an entire suite of skills, and there’s always room for improvement in each area. Heck, after 30+ years of gaming, I know I still have my weak areas. But that study away from the gaming table, is really cemented with the practice you get when you come back to the table and run the game. So go to it! Start practicing! And ask yourself, what can I do away from the gaming table to do this better?

I might come back to this later, break down some of those requisite skills, and talk about how I’ve managed over the years to improve each one.

Last Side Note: Simple games are all the rage these days. Heck, i’d say that for me, Metagene has been my best-seller for awhile now, which is gratifying enough. But there seems to be this impression that simpler games are easier to GM well. I’d argue (from my admittedly limited experience) that they are easier to GM poorly, but no easier to GM well. No matter what, you’re gonna get out of it what you put in, and what you put in is who you are.

That’s it for now. Go Forth and Game Well!