Ok, I admit it. I suck as a GM.
This week I have been really puttering around the basics of my own interpretation of the Traveller setting that I talked about in some recent articles.
Along the way, by way of an epiphany arising from the project, I've also been considering what makes me a sucky GM.
I have a few ideas...
Here's how I know that I suck as a GM:
- I feel nervous and unprepared for each session.
- During the game we are regularly distracted by non-gaming stuff... and I feel like it buys me some time.
- I don't have much in the way of written notes to refer back to.
- I am regularly having to look stuff up on the rulebook... even basic stuff.
- I never let on to my players that I need some help.
Don't Wanna Suck
Again, I hate to admit it but I suck as a GM.
Now, I admit that my guys turn up regularly to play and that says something positive about my GMing... but you have to wonder, don't you, if the guys show up because my game is better than no game?
- My prep is shockingly light. I spend my free time on any roleplay activity you can imagine EXCEPT prepping my next session.
- I'm a butterfly-head who never sits still. I'm dreaming about the next setting, another system, whatever.
- I spend more time reading that writing. Reading, re-reading, referencing... but rarely for the next session's system or adventure.
- I don't know the game rules well enough. I read them once, I am reading another system now.
- I'm quite good at winging things. I tell myself that I am better when I am creating on the fly. I'm wrong.
I don't wanna suck as a GM anymore. The only problem is that I don't want to lose what I truly love about my hobby: my freedom to create.
What's a poor GM to do? I have some thoughts...
What's This Hobby About?
First of all, I'm having to decide what I really want from my hobby.
- Is it lots of cool RPG books to read and digest?
- Is it an evening with friends where I spend more time thinking on my feet than roleplaying the scene?
- Or is it to become the most un-suckiest (yeah, it's not a word but...) GM?
I want to keep the fun and creative elements of my gaming style. That means I want to keep my ability to wing-it and make the story respond to the ideas and input of players. It means that I want to be able to add anything to my game, anytime, on a whim if required.
But I also want to become an awesome GM. Not mediocre or average... awesome!
What Does Awesome Look Like?
Awesome GMing has a number of cool elements that it's darn well time that I learned to develop. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
Writing this just highlights how far I have to travel... but also galvanises my determination to start moving in that direction. What am I going to do?
- Confident, smiling, relaxed GMing which allows the players room to play.
- Rules don't get in the way. The book rarely, if ever, opens.
- The setting is rich and believable, consistent and detailed, alive and vibrant.
- The story has pace, purpose and drama.
- Fight scenes are high-paced and spiced with descriptive roleplay.
- The game is a campaign, with depth and long-term challenge.
Starting Somewhere Useful
In a week's time I have a game session to run with friends in the IW setting. It's time to focus.
But then it's also true that you can't become great overnight... or even in a week.
What we need next Friday is a cool evening of entertaining roleplay that also starts to feel better.
Step One has to be focus:
- Focus on prepping the things that I usually spend time making up on the spot but which I knew would probably be needed.
- Focus on the game at hand, not the next one that I want to talk about but won't be playing anytime soon.
- Focus on writing and creating, not reading.
- Learn the game rules. Focus on the system I like.
- Focus on allowing myself the space to wing stuff that is really cool, not the stuff I should have prepped anyway.
Step Two is about being ready for Friday:
- Create an in-game situation which will be quick to build.
- Prepare the key elements of that situation in more detail than usual - NPCs, items, places...
- Revisit the rules that are needed to run that situation.
Step Three is to talk to the players about how they can help:
- Ask for copies of their up-to-date Character Sheets.
- Ask for their single A4 one-sheet maximum sized character background... and read it.
- Listen to their questions, ideas and comments with intent to answer, mine, steal their thinking.
I don't know if this will work, or even if I will be able to deliver... but, I gotta tell ya, it's time to try. I don't wanna suck as a GM anymore.
If you've got any suggestions, now's the time to share them.