GM's handbook

Am I a good Game Master?

“Am I a good Game Master?” is a question most GMs keep asking themselves. We struggle to get better at what we do, we ask for feedback, read tips and guides, we watch videos and talk with other GMs. However it’s really difficult to say what makes a good or a bad Game Master. There are many different play styles, different groups of players and personalities. The task of becoming a great Game Master seems elusive at best. As someone who’s been struggling with this problem myself, I’d like to share my take on the subject.

Couple of years ago I published a few short stories in a Polish magazine “Science Fiction”. I felt really encouraged to write more and better. And so, I decided to write something more ambitious, edgier, filled with more action. I was happy with what I created and I sent it to the magazine.

But this time my short story was rejected. I sent it to a few other publishers, but got rejected as well. As you can imagine, I felt devastated.

But then I read an email from one of the editor-in-chiefs, that made me rethink my approach. He told me that rather than trying to write something outside of my expertise, I should stick to what I’m really good at.

He was right. I sucked at writing action scenes (or running them as a Game Master). I was never good at it, but I liked reading it, so I decided to write an adventure-oriented short story anyway. But I realized that the attitude of “imitate the masters until you become one” doesn’t work. Your audience can instantly feel if what you do comes naturally and you know what you’re doing or if it’s forced. This is true for the readers, but also for the players.

In my opinion, you as a Game Master should focus on what you do best instead of trying to master the skills that don’t come naturally to you.

I suck at action scenes, but my players love playing at my table anyway and show up excited to every session. They do not come to play epic battles and crazy adventures, but they like what they get instead – entangled relationships, emotional connection with NPCs, personal dilemmas, and underlying mature content. If you focus on your strengths instead of weaknesses, you will end up with a unique playstyle of your own, that you feel really comfortable with. It may not be ideal for all the players, but you will certainly find a group that fits you.

Of course, choosing to focus on one’s GMing style is not without its perils. The downside of this approach is that it’s difficult for to find games that support your playstyle. It’s one of the reasons why I became a game designer – to create games that help me play in the way I like to play. However I’m glad to see that in the recent years the RPGs departed from a single playstyle paradigm and Game Masters can choose from an abundance of different games to find those suitable for them and their groups.

Don’t be afraid to find your own voice as a Game Master.

Don’t force yourself to play in the way you’ve seen in a video or read in some article. There isn’t a right or wrong way to play RPGs, you just need to discover your own way and follow it through!

Do you have your own playstyle? Or do you know a Game Master that runs his or her games in a unique way? Let me know your thoughts on the subject in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Am I a good Game Master?”

  1. In my games there’s rarely time to plan too much. If you don’t do a decision quickly, an NPC will, and it probably won’t go in the favor of the player! Sometimes the situation does require planning though. Then I give the players time to go through all the things they want to, and when they are good and ready, I’ll tell what happens next.

    Although I remember one time I Ieft the players to plan ahead and went for a smoke outside. When I came back I threw such a curve-ball into their faces that nobody could’ve guessed it. I felt a bit bad about it, but it was that one time only…

    This might be the main reason I left one gaming group. The guy who GMed for that group most regularly did practically nothing to keep the pace going. Our play-styles just didn’t match. I’m still good friends with him, and is my neighbor in fact!

    1. I guess it’s sometimes best to leave the group that doesn’t fit you and find players and GM that enjoy the same playstyle as you.

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