GM Advice: 4 Effortless Things You Can Do To Be A Better GM

I enjoy Game Mastering. Not sure if you know that about me. There are a few articles I have written on the topic. I've been doing it since 2004, so at the time of writing this piece, I have been GMing for twelve years. Not as long as some, ages longer than others. I've seen three different editions of Dungeons & Dragons, the rise of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, the rise, and fall, and possible rise again of White Wolf, and the terrors and blissful agony that is Palladium.

 "I've seen some stuff."

However, having run for so long, things can start to happen. My style can become predictable and tedious, I can develop campaign tunnel vision and I can make mistakes. Not the rules-related mistakes we all make from time to time, but deeper ones that manifest from a lack of creativity and perspective. 

It is a sure recipe for Game Master burnout, and it can happen to anyone. From newcomers to those GMs that have been behind the screen for 30 years or more. Eventually even the most stalwart, time-tested storyteller can become run down. The well can run dry. The freezer can run out of ice cream.

There is no reason to fret though. These things are not eternal, immovable obstacles. They can be overcome with a minimal amount of effort and a donation of your time. These are things anyone can do, even during a busy week. Here are four effortless things you can do to become a better Game Master.
1. Read A Book: Yes, the power of reading. If Geordi La Forge has taught us anything on his rainbow, it's that reading is fundamental. Now, this doesn't include reading your core books, or adventure modules, and it certainly doesn't mean browsing reddit or any number of fine quality blogs (shameless plug). This means go out and grab a freakin' novel, a book of short stories, sonnets, poetry, anything. Ideally you ought to read things in your  Game Mastery wheelhouse, like Tokien, Sanderson, Rothfuss and Jordan if you are running a fantasy game, Lovecraft, King and Poe if you are feeling a horror game, or Zhan, Bradbury or Asimov if sci-fi is your flavor.
Books can open up your perspective to new ideas. They can give you new insight into world building, get your creative juices flowing, and they can inspire you to new and unexpected avenues might not have considered otherwise. And, if all else fails, they are an excellent source to steal from. Shamelessly.

2. Watch A Movie: Books can create a scene in your head like nothing else, but movies are some of the best resources in the world for tone and grandeur. It is one thing to read about a horde of Uruk-hai rushing the gates of Helms Deep, but don't to dare say that when you finally saw on a screen you didn't just pee yourself a little.

 "Or was that just me?"

Bladder issues aside, movies are excellent in the pacing department. They run in a time frame much like a game. You have a finite amount of time to fit in a story, so it helps to make every minute count, and it is good to know where to cut out the unneeded fat that would otherwise bog a good story down. The action is always tight, the scenes well put together, and the visuals are top notch. In a novel, yous pend hundreds of pages introducing characters, slowly building up the story and the tension, and in a long running campaign, that is great. But if you are concerning yourself with session-by-session style, movies are a great model.

3. Play In Someone Else's Game: One of the best ways to be a better GM is to get out from behind the screen, and walk a mile in the players' shoes. Playing in a game other than your own can be a magical experience, especially if you have been behind the screen exclusively for a while. When you start walking around as a player character, your mode of thinking changes. You're no longer concerned about how to challenge the players, you are more concerned with player related things, like "what's behind the door?" and "is the door trapped?" and "are there any strange markings on the door?" and other door-related trains of thought.

When you start thinking like a player, you get a better understanding of your players, and by proxy a more thoughtful way to challenge them. Plus, it is nice to take a break and have the kind of fun that doesn't come with hours of pouring over books and maps like a hobbit on the run.

4. Talk To Your Players: Easily the best way to improve your GMing, talking to your players lets them know that you are receptive and appreciative of their input. Many times Game Masters put off an air of unknowable aloofness that gives them an almost alien presence.

 "This is what it looks like in my head."

Opening the lines of communication will give you some insight about that they want from the game, and what their expectations are. What's more, they can tell you what is working for them, and what isn't. This kind of feedback is vital for the longevity of a game. Next time you complete a session, ask your players for their opinions on things. What was fun? What sucked? What could have been different. Maybe something like this?

Being a good GM is easy. Being a better GM is a little trickier, but not impossible. Work at it, expand your horizons, and roll like a boss.

Maximum effort,
+Ed The Bard 

Looking for some extra aids to make your game really pop? Check out the Open Gaming Store. Tell them The Bard sent you.

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