‘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!

Charity Bundles and Print Update

Howdy folks! A couple of quick updates.

This is an important moment, not just because of Covid-19. Creative folks are coming together everywhere to support racial justice and equality in law enforcement.

Metagene RPG is part of DriveThruRPG’s charity bundles. This particular one benefits the NAACP, and we’re so glad to help even just in this small way.


There’s also this fantastic bundle on itch.io to that also goes to the NAACP and the Community Bail Fund. I don’t have anything in this one, but it’s still awesome, and for a vital cause!


Please go check these out, and purchase one or both. Get some great games and help make the world a better place.

For those who’ve asked about print versions of Cosmic Cutthroats, I’ve ordered a test print copy from Lulu, and taken the initial steps to set up POD on DriveThruRPG itself. There are massive delays on both sites, and POD setup takes time. There may be unforeseen issues with either or both. We’re getting it done, though! Keep an eye on this space for updates!

If you have questions or possible errata about the game, please remember to check the errata list in the link to the right. If you find something that’s not on that list, please feel free to email me at jkubli@imperfekt-industrees.com with any questions or issue.

Stay safe and well! Thanks!

Plague Update

The world is a scary place right now, what with a global pandemic, and many of our countries’ failure to prepare adequately, or downplaying the very real threat. Wash your hands, stay at home, and maintain social distance, folks! Order out for food if you can, and don’t hoard toilet paper!

I’m lucky in that my job allows me to work from home, but many aren’t so fortunate. We’re all scared, so be kind to one another, and if someone needs help, do what you safely can. Remember, to quote Harry Tuttle, we’re all in this together.

All that aside, a lot has happened. I just got Cosmic Cutthroats back from my editor, a talented and patient lady named Jennifer Povey, and she found and corrected many errors in the text! I’ve made a number of small fixes, and feel good about the state of the text.

I have two Cutthroats games going now, one at home and one with my online game group. The home game has gone on for several months now, and the online game is just getting started, but overall, both games are going really well.

I’m planning on commissioning some more art for Cutthroats, and if we don’t find serious issues in testing, I may be looking at publishing by end of summer. Hopefully it’ll be safe to do some travelling by then, there are a few local events I’d like to attend with a new game in tow, but we’ll just have to see how things go.

As for other games, Metagene just got released in hardback for global distribution on Lulu! That means in a few weeks it should be available on Amazon, B&N, and other sites. I’ll be appearing on a Youtube channel sometime soon demonstrating character creation as well. More details on that when I know when it’s going up.

That’s it for now. Progress!

Metagene Super Hero RPG Sale

Metagene Super Hero RPG Cover -- whitborderFor my birthday, and as an early giving-of-thanks to everyone, Metagene Super Hero RPG, a 229 page, rules-light four-color supers RPG from Imperfekt Gammes, is discounted to $0.99 for the rest of November!


The 2d12 task resolution system for Cosmic Cutthroats came from Metagene originally, so if you’re interested in the former, and want a game where you can make a hero in minutes and get smashing evil right away, check it out!

A Game of 100 Questions

I wrote this questionnaire a long time ago, and have used it with in at least a dozen campaigns. If you’re running a point-based RPG like Cosmic Cutthroats, you might find it helpful to answer the questions before creating your character. This helps you flesh out the character concept that you’re building.

If you’re running a system with more randomized generation, it makes more sense to answer after your character is finished. That way, you’re giving context to all those random roles, weaving them together into a coherent whole. And if your game features high lethality, maybe answer one randomly-chosen question per game session. By the time you answer enough questions to get attached, your character might be strong enough to survive, at least a little while longer!


1. What is your Character’s name (first, middle, and last)?
2. Does your Character have a nickname? What is the Character’s code name?
3. Does the Character have any commonly used aliases?
4. How does the Character feel about their name; do they particularly like or dislike their name or nickname?


5. Is the Character human? If not, what is your Character’s species, subspecies, and/or race?
6. What is your Character’s height, weight, eye color, natural hair color, current hair color, and skin color?
7. Does your Character have any body modifications, such as tattoos, burns, scars, body piercings, bionics or genetic alterations? If so, describe them.
8. Is there a story behind any of the Character’s modifications (from above)?
9. Is your Character very attractive? Describe their build — are they muscular, lithe, willowy, husky, flabby, voluptuous, ripped, or what?
10. Is this despite or because of the care they take of themselves?
11. How does the Character dress, and what is their hairstyle and posture Examples: Dapper or preppie, or slacker, or slobbish.
12. What does the Character’s voice sound like?
13. What is the look in the Character’s eyes? Dangerous, daring, cunning, dull, or bewildered?


14. What is your Character’s family background? Is the Character an orphan? If so, skip questions 15-20, or explain the nearest equivalents.
15. What are the Character’s parents’ names and occupations?
16. How many siblings does the Character have, and what are their names, genders, ages, and occupations?
17. Does the family maintain contacts, or are they distant?
18. Any there any other important family members, such ans grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins?
19. What is the Character’s feelings towards each of their family members? Examples: Attachment, competition for attention, love, loathing, or even fear.
20. Are all of the Character’s relatives living? If not, describe how they died, and what effect did their death had on the Character. Was it an accident, negligence, illness, or even murder?


21. Where did the Character grow up? Examples: The suburbs, the ghettos, downtown, on military bases, on reservations.
22. Does the Character have any favorite memories of childhood, such as a playmate, a tree fort, a favorite game or toy? Instead, was it so bad that the Character usually blocks out all of their childhood memories?


23. What is your Character’s job?
24. Why did the Character choose that job? What qualifications does the Character have for the job?
25. Where did the Character go to train in that occupation? A college, armed service, or trade school?
26. Has the Character ever changed jobs? If so, describe any important former positions, and why they left, or were fired.
27. What is the worst thing about their job, in the Character’s opinion?
28. What is the best thing about the job, in the Character’s opinion?
29. Are they loyal, or would they jump ship for better wages — or even for worse ones?
30. What is the Character’s dream job? Describe the employer, the job position, salary, colleagues and underlings, and duties.


31. How tight a handle does the Character keep on their money (free spender, or miserly)?
32. Is there one kind of product that they have a special weakness for spending lots of money on?
33. Does the Character pay their bills on time?
34. What does the Character use for transportation — an old junker, or a classy new jobber?
35. What sort of dwelling does the Character live in? Examples: A house, an apartment, a trailer-house, a mud hut, a cave, or a refrigerator box? Provide a simple (at least 1 sentence) description of the interior.


36. Does the Character have any friends? If so, names and a short (at least 1 sentence) description of each, noting any ‘best friends’ or former romantic interests.
37. What do the Character and each of their friend(s) have in common, and what is different between them?
38. How did the Character and each of their friend(s) meet?
39. Does the Character have any pets — now or in the past? If so, what kind, and what were their names, and why were those names chosen.
40. What sort of pets does the Character prefer? If any, state what reasons do they give for liking them.

Significant Others

41. Is your Character currently in a significant relationship with a member of the opposite sex? Note if it is a possibly long-term relationship.
42. Is the relationship sexual, platonic, true love, or any combination?
43. How did the Character and their S.O. meet?
44. What is your Character’s sexual preference?
45. Is the Character’s philosophy ‘love the one you’re with’, ‘faithful ’til the end’, or ‘as long as we have an understanding’?
46. What is the Character’s dream mate, in appearance, personality, etc. The description will show how shallow or deep the Character themselves are.
47. Has the Character ever been, or are they, married, and to whom? If they are no longer so, note when that was, if it was a legal, religious, or common-law marriage, when it was broken off, and why.
48. Does the Character maintain contacts with any ex-girl/boyfriends or ex-spouses?


49. What are the Character’s moral/ethical beliefs?
50. Their spiritual/religious beliefs?
51. Do they adhere to a specific philosophy, or are they freewheeling?
52. How committed is the Character to these beliefs — would the Character die for them, or kill for them?
53. Are they generally good, selfish, indifferent, or evil?
54. Was the Character raised with a specific philosophy, and do they accept or reject it?
55. Does the Character believe in an afterlife, and how do they plan to get there?
56. Does the Character struggle with their faith, or are they strong and committed?
57. Does the Character attend any kind of religious services regularly?
58. How does the Character feel about: violence/killing, extramarital sex, sexual orientation, sexual deviancy, religion, stealing, lying, gender roles, use of torture, loyalty and trust?

Legal Status

59. What is the Character’s relationship to the authorities?
60. Have they ever been convicted of a minor crime? A major one?
61. Is this despite or because of the care (or lack of) they take in dealing with the police?
62. Are the crimes cleared or outstanding?
63. Is the Character currently wanted, on probation, or have bounties on them?


64. If the Character travels (or could travel), where to? How often? With whom?
65. If the Character participates in or even watches sports, which ones? What style — hardball or softball, touch or tackle?
66. What TV genres, books, magazines, musical styles, movie genres, or computer games do they enjoy? Favorite card, board, or war games? Do they cheat?
67. Does the Character use any recreational drugs? Examples: tobacco and/or alcohol (give specific brands if they are that particular), marijuana, or any others.


68. Does the Character support the current national administration? Why or why not?
69. Does the Character count themselves part of any particular political movement or party? Or is the Character anarchist, radical, absurdist, or monarchist, democratic, Machiavellian, socialist, hegemonist, imperialist, or apolitical?
70. Is there some political alignment that they absolutely cannot stand, or find laughable?

Sanity and Madness

71. Is the Character plagued with any specific doubts about themselves?
72. What does the Character fear most about the future?
73. Does the Character believe fanatically in only the tangible (materialist), or in a bit of the supernatural, or do they believe anything they’re told?
74. Does the Character get along well in society, or are they handicapped by any eccentricities they have?

Combat Style

75. How does the Character perform in combat? Fast and furious, slow and measured, deceptive and misdirecting? Describe a typical combat scene.
76. Does the Character talk, scream, giggle, sing, or growl in combat, or are they deadly silent?
77. Does the Character train in any specific fighting style or martial art? If so, mention why they chose that art, and their degree of proficiency in it.
78. Is there some weapon the Character prefers, either a specific weapon (grandfather’s Musashi sword) or a class of weapons in general (Colt .45s)? Mention why the Character has such a preference, and their degree of proficiency with it.
79. Is there some flashy, tricky move or weapon kata that they love to use? Examples might include wide flourishing disarms, trips, swiftly slashing their initials on the enemy or their belongings, or clipping off buttons or armor buckles.
80. Does the Character prefer sneakiness and subterfuge, brazen attack, or a combination, with grand, intimidating entries? State if the Character has any degree of skill with stealth.


81. What is the Character’s attitude towards death? Examples: Scared, transfixed with horror, morbidly fascinated, uninterested, or totally unafraid.
82. How would the Character want to be disposed of once they pass on?
83. Does the Character believe in an honorable death for all, or are murder and assassination justified to them?


84. Is the Character an introvert or an extrovert — shy or outgoing?
85. How does the Character solve most interpersonal problems? Examples: Looking up possible solutions in a psychology textbook, brazenly ignoring – or confronting — the problem, seeking neutral arbitration, lying and sneaking their way out of it, or conscientiously speaking the truth.
86. What is the Character’s attitude towards life itself? Examples: It is a battle that goes to the strong, a training grounds for some final battle at the end of time, an enormous test set up by the gods, a joke, a joke in very poor taste, just a bit better than death, worse than death?
87. What is the Character’s prize possession? Mention how they acquired it, from whom, when and what significance it holds for them.
88. The Character has discovered someone breaking into their house; what do they do? Examples: Kill the intruder instantly, talk to them, scare them away, capture them and torture them, or cower under the bed with a broomstick.
89. How does the Character accept the following: compliments, flattery, gifts, charity?
90. How does the Character accept the following: being ignored, insults, requests for charity?
91. Is the Character prejudiced about any one species, race, gender, culture, or sexual orientation, and if so, why?
92. What sort of foods does the Character enjoy? If any, mention if they are capable of cooking, and how well.
93. The Character is asked to go to a formal function, a fancy wedding, for example; how do they spend the majority of the reception? Examples: Eating cake and/or finger foods, talking, dancing with friends, or with strangers, people-watching from corners, or slipping out early.
94. What is the Character’s favorite saying, or a good, illustrative quote by the Character?
95. What song (or band/performer, or music genre) best evokes the mood that would fit the Character’s personality — and would they like the song?
96. Who are the Character’s heroes, and if there are none in the game-world, who would they be in our world?
97. What is your Character’s attitude towards luck/chance/fate/destiny? Do they even believe in luck? Are they pessimistic or optimistic? Do they see themselves as pessimistic or optimistic?
98. What are the Character’s dreams for the future? A wife, a dog, three kids, and a house with rose bushes and picket fences; a series of wild adventures crossing the globe, punctuated by carousing and spending sprees; touring the world in a ship, rubbing elbows with the elite, ridding the world of crime and evil once and for all, becoming a god, or what?


99. How does the Character’s abilities fit into the hero group? Does the Character have the super-strength to keep enemies from the party’s weaker members, or the telepathic talent to tie their teammate’s minds together?
100. How will the Character fit into the Campaign? What adventures does the Character’s background make possible?

Mad Libs Adventure Design

This system allows a group to semi-randomly generate an adventure! Sure, this blog is geared to Cosmic Cutthroats, but this system will work for any game.

Each person things of some story, maybe a book, movie, TV show episode (has to be a specific episode), or whatnot. Then, everyone rolls 1d20. They answer these questions, going in order from lowest roll to highest.

If two people roll the same number, both of their answers are counted. If you have less than 5 people, then each person should pick another 2-3 stories, and their subsequent stories can count for later questions.

  1. What’s the problem the PCs need to solve?
  2. Who is a helpful NPC that might assist?
  3. Who is the villain that the group must face (if any)?
  4. Where does this all take place?
  5. What’s the final twist, or some unexpected element? The PC that rolled this one may keep it a secret!
  6. What’s the reward if the PCs succeed?

In many cases, there will be multiple answers. The group can choose the one they like best, or they can choose randomly. You can add more questions, too, to flesh out the adventure, but they need to be very open-ended, suitable for any kind of story.

So, for example, Abigail, Beatrice, Carla, Dave, Eddie, and Frank want to play Cosmic Cutthroats, but Abbie can’t decide on an adventure to run. It’s a universal system, and NPCs and creatures are easy to make in minutes, she just needs an idea for the plot. So, everyone thinks of a story.

  1. Abigail thinks of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
  2. Beatrice thinks of Crazy Rich Asians.
  3. Carla thinks of Nightmare on Elm Street.
  4. Dave thinks of Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas.
  5. Eddie thinks of Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 5 episode 2, “Darmok.”
  6. Frank thinks of the novel The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi.

Everyone rolls 1d20.
Abigail rolls a 1, Beatrice rolls a 19, Carla rolls 10, Dave 15, Eddie 5, and Frank 9.

So the order goes:

1. What’s the problem the PCs need to solve?
Abigail thought of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Abigail really liked the parts of The Two Towers in Rohan, so the group decides this is a diplomatic mission, to go enlist the aid of a civilization in a neighboring dimension for their patrons in the transdimensional city of Uru Ulan.

2. Who is a helpful NPC?
Eddie thought of Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 5 episode 2, “Darmok.”
There’s an alien who might be able to help the group, but his language is so strange that neither technology nor spells can assist. They have to learn the alien’s culture (Brains rolls) to be able to interpret.

3. Who is the villain that the group must face (if any)?
Frank thought of The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi.
The most frightening enemies in The Quantum Thief are the keepers of the Prison, AIs who perform endless experiments on prisoners in a theoretical attempt to rehabilitate them. The group shudders and agrees that some vast, godlike AI, performing mass psychology experiments, would be a great bad guy.

4. Where does this all take place?
Carla thinks of Nightmare on Elm Street.
So the two main locations in Nightmare on Elm Street are the real world in the 80s, and the dream world. They agree they don’t want the whole plot to be “all a dream”, so the world they’re visiting resembles suburban Earth in North America in the late 20th century.

5. What’s the twist? The PC that rolled this one keeps it a secret.
Dave thinks of Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas.
There was so much weirdness and so many twists in that movie! But maybe the problem with the “Darmok” figure is he’s so full of drugs that not a lot of what he says makes sense. If you can cut through the thick smoke that surrounds him and get him to talk plainly, his advice will be invaluable.

(Okay, so maybe this isn’t the twistiest of twists, but it does bring in an additional plot element and fleshes out an NPC a little more, but more importantly, Dave likes it and the group agrees, so it goes in. There’s plenty of room for flexibility when using this mechanic).

6. What’s the reward if the PCs succeed?
Beatrice thinks of Crazy Rich Asians.
The plot of Crazy Rich Asians is about an Asian American lady going to Macau with her fiancee, to attend a wedding, and the clash of cultures that results. The reward, really, is growing to understand her fiancee and get closer to him. We can add a subplot where one PC describes an attractive person they meet in this 1980s dimension, and if they succeed in formulating an alliance, the two have a chance to get to know one another.
Since Beatrice is playing a straight female character, she describes a good-looking guy the group can contact.

So here’s a plot summary:
The Ordo Custodes Noctis contacts the PCs with an important mission. There’s been a rash of mass murders recently. Artificial beings, synthetically designed beings made of flesh and cybernetic parts, have infiltrated Uru Ulan. They pass for “normal” visitors and inhabitants, have jobs, have friends, and lead a normal life, until they suddenly snap and go on a nocturnal killing spree. This has to stop.

They’ve traced the synthetics to a nearby Realm that resembles 1980s Earth, complete with Cold War tensions. It’s believed that a massive supercomputer there might have run amok, an AI designed by the local American military to defend the country against a Russian missile attack. This machine consciousness has the facilities to create synthetic spies, and as it grows more twisted and paranoid, it’s creating the mass murdering synthetics through some kind of social experiment.

You will travel to this world and speak with the President of the United Confederation of Vespuccia. He’s a senile old man who’s been in office for decades due to his “wartime powers” declarations. His top advisers are mostly or all agents of the aberrant AI, so you may need to deal with them to get the old man to give you permission to take out the AI itself. And of course, you need to convince him to do without the AI’s protection in case of an attack, probably no mean feat.

The OCN has a local contact, a retired mystic, but the PCs will discover that the contact is eccentric and unreliable, often addled by noxious chemicals, but his grasp of the local situation may be essential. Keeping on his good side will be most helpful.

Finally, a handsome Russian double agent with a background in programming is available to assist you if you’re able to get permission to deal with the deadly defense AI. You’ll have to determine if he’s trustworthy, and if so, gain his trust so he can assist you in disabling the AI without leaving the Vespuccian missile defense totally vulnerable.

Good luck!