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12/13/2015 11:11 am  #1


Leveling Up as a GM

So I just finished my first read through of the rules, and I am starting to get a group of players together. I guess it comes down to this: I wish I was a better GM. I have years of gaming experience as both player and GM but, in the end I'm an average, serviceable GM. I want to challenge myself to run a better game.

So what has helped you improve as a GM, and/or what do you look at as essential qualities conducive to running a great game? I plan on running published adventures for the most part with the occasional homebrew side adventure thrown in. Grateful for any advice you might have!

 


"...only a shadowy conception of the future and of his own emotional make-up saved him from being a man without imagination, a dangerous dullard."  -the Gunslinger, The Dark Tower I
 

12/13/2015 12:29 pm  #2


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

For me it's been a few things:

1.) Reading source material and watching movies and shows that capture the sort of mood and environment that I want to present to the players. For example, I'm developing a Viking-themed adventure right now, so I'm reading The Sagas. Want to run a campaign that has the feel of Thundarr the Barbarian? Then watch all the old cartoons with an eye for the sort of things that would make the game come alive. 

2.) Run it, play with an experienced GM, then run again! What do I mean? Run your game the way you imagine for a number of sessions and have fun with it. Then, when you have the chance, play with an experienced GM who's got a lot of experience managing "the game". Once you've been on both sides of the screen, you develop a different eye for how other referees manage the game -- the pacing, the listening, when to challenge, when to present opportunities, what you describe, what you do not describe, how to not tell a story but allow for the players, through their actions, create the story themselves.

These are the sorts of things that are the hallmarks of an excellent campaign. A lot of it can be rather subtle. I'm thinking Blackadder23 will have some great insights. He's got a knack for explaining this stuff quite well. 

Last edited by Ghul (12/13/2015 12:36 pm)


Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - A Role-Playing Game of Swords, Sorcery, and Weird Fantasy
 

12/13/2015 2:48 pm  #3


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

For me, it's preparation, preparation, preparation. I know I don't extemporize well, so I do my homework beforehand. I make sure I know the rules thoroughly, or at least thoroughly enough to quickly find any obscure reference that might come up.

If I'm running a published adventure, I read through it a couple of times first: once just to understand what's going on, and then a second time to imagine how I'd run each encounter and how the players might respond. It helps to have experience with a stable group of players; convention games are definitely harder. I almost always modify every published adventure I run, to be sure it's consistent with my interpretation of the rules.

When game time comes, be sure everyone is participating and having fun. Engage with everyone; don't let one or two players dominate the game. If the players take the adventure in an unexpected direction, do your best to keep up with them. Don't try to force them "back on track". It's their story, not yours. Game-mastering is a thankless job.

 

12/14/2015 11:16 pm  #4


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

Thanks guys! A lot of good food for thought. One fact that you both touched on is, that it is the player's story. I think that I get caught up in trying to tell a good story, to the point where I might not be engaging with the players enough and playing off of their lead.

Your point on preparation is well taken DMPrata. I think the fact that I have played RPG's for so long has made me a little lax. Kind of taking for granted that I know what I'm doing. Or maybe it's the fact that I've been playing too many hippie indie games lately! Either way there is much room for improvement on that front.


"...only a shadowy conception of the future and of his own emotional make-up saved him from being a man without imagination, a dangerous dullard."  -the Gunslinger, The Dark Tower I
     Thread Starter
 

12/15/2015 6:56 am  #5


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

DiceDuke wrote:

Thanks guys! A lot of good food for thought. One fact that you both touched on is, that it is the player's story. I think that I get caught up in trying to tell a good story, to the point where I might not be engaging with the players enough and playing off of their lead.

Your point on preparation is well taken DMPrata. I think the fact that I have played RPG's for so long has made me a little lax. Kind of taking for granted that I know what I'm doing. Or maybe it's the fact that I've been playing too many hippie indie games lately! Either way there is much room for improvement on that front.

I tend to prep lots more for convention games than I do for the bi-weekly I run at home.  My friends create the story and develop characters with a nudge from me.  The con experience is just the opposite.  
 


“How can I wear the harness of toil
And sweat at the daily round,
While in my soul forever
The drums of Pictdom sound?” 
 

12/15/2015 7:48 am  #6


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

Also, I think a well design environment, pick a base, like Khomarium and get a feel of it dark streets in amongst vacant lofty towers and imagine what horrors lie within, or the desolation of the Wasteland of Lug which surrounds the city. It's vast ports, with ships coming and going from Erikssgard or Zangerios. 

I obviously have establish Blackmarsh. I think even though the PCs may never see or experience an area, it not matter to much (because they only experience a small 10% part of his mapped land). It is that the GM can describe his environment in great near poetic phrases and give the Players a good description of the land they wander through.

Example (For Blackmarsh is): "You can see the vast array of The White Mountains to the west daunting and silent and beside it just to the south the dense alpine trees of the Blood Forest. To the east, the cold waters of the Grey Sea and the Castle Blackmarsh. To the south the feared and loathed Forsaken Desert and beyond the Forbidden Steppes!"

Get to know your more Important NPCs (Lords and High Priests), down to the Serving Wench of some tavern in a small hamlet near the border regions. And when Players met these NPCs, you are ready with a quick description and a pre-thought attitude of cert NPC.

In short "Get a feel for your Environment!"

 

12/15/2015 10:11 am  #7


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

Where specifically do you feel you're having issues?  What in particular are you trying to improve?


Michael Sipe 1979-2018
Rest in peace, brother.
 

12/16/2015 6:59 am  #8


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

Blackadder23 wrote:

Where specifically do you feel you're having issues?  What in particular are you trying to improve?

I would like to break out of the, "Kick the door open, kill things, and take their stuff" mode. As a group we start off with higher goals but, being people with kids and jobs and all that other mundane responsibility hooey, sometimes at the end of the day the imagination and energy isn't exactly peak. The easy thing is to slip back into being a pack of murder hobos. It's not all bad, we still have fun getting some real world stress out by battling monsters but, I have a hard time keeping any momentum going in that type of game, because there is no real buy in to their characters, the NPC's, or the world. Hope some of that makes sense.

Caveman, what you said about knowing and developing my game world environment makes good sense. I'm not someone who is known for fast thinking on their feet. I think that goes a long way towards a more consistent, believable world.
 


"...only a shadowy conception of the future and of his own emotional make-up saved him from being a man without imagination, a dangerous dullard."  -the Gunslinger, The Dark Tower I
     Thread Starter
 

12/16/2015 9:09 am  #9


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

(Extra long post; list included!)

Not that there's anything wrong with kicking in doors and taking stuff!

I've been thinking about this. I feel like I'm a better DM in the moment than I am in the larger picture. I don't really have time to do large-scale world prepping--and I never found that it helped my game all that much. At least, with the Gazetteer of Hyperborea, a lot of the heavier lifting has been done and I can zoom in as needed.

I think I'm pretty good at in-the-moment reactions and keeping things weird enough that the players don't get too comfortable and the stakes stay high. I rarely go completely scriptless. I like playing with a big library of adventures near to hand so that if the players decide on something really off course, I can throw *something* at them. Usually, my gang is content with my laying out possibilities and options, they pick a goal or a route, and we see what develops along the way. Things stay . . . fluid.

Though I've also been known to say, "The lizard-people braves are going on a thew-wagon hunt. Who wants to go along?" and see what happens.

And I find a lot of things grow out of player goals. Like, someone has been mauled pretty badly by a werewolf, and they want a cure. Not a lot of CA 9 sorcerers around in my game, and any that they could find would likely have a price not measured in gold. But that's an option. Eating poison is an option. What else is there? What choices can I present that demand a meaningful choice and can lead to more stuff down the road?

Of course, now they have an AMAZON SKY-SHIP somehow, so they keep flying right over adventure possibilities, and I have to have friendly rangers shoot flame arrows just to get their attention and let them know there's a haunted magic battle robot just down in that swamp there!

So . . . I don't know. I find that a lot of the OSR blogs are written by people who play and think about playing and make a lot of great playing material, and the ferment of ideas on those and on this board are really helpful just to keep the old brain churning. And besides, there are only so many articles about the Jets one can waste time on at work.

But remember, too, that if your players are showing up every couple of weeks despite how busy you and they all are, it's because they want to be there! They're already primed to have a good time. That's your biggest asset. So my guess is that they'll trust you and follow you down any road you want to take the game that's done in a generous spirit.

Also, there are simply some excellent adventures out there. I posted this list a while back of all the adventures we've played with AS&SH:


1. The First Casualty, Jason Shaffer, one Page Dungeon Contest, http://content.wuala.com/contents/kensanata/Dokumente/1PDC%202012/Jason%20Shaffer%20%e2%80%93%20The%20First%20Casualty.pdf (Recap: Esquimeaux don't care--or know what a princess looks like. Drunken belligerence is Ross's superpower!)

2. Cult of the Skin Demon, Jurgen Mayer and +Dyson Logos  https://rpgcharacters.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/cult_of_the_skin_demon.pdf (Recap: Being careful kills Comhan. You better believe from hell's heart he stabs at thee.)

3. The Ruined Hamlet/Terror in the Gloaming, Barrataria Games, http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/98594/Adventure-Module-BL12-The-Ruined-Hamlet-Terror-in-the-Gloaming (Best recap: Patrol dodging, spider fighting, church burning, vine stabbing--screw it. Let's go lynch some wights! RIP, almost everyone.)

4. Rats in the Walls, +Jeff Talanian , http://www.rpgnow.com/product/128499/Rats-in-the-Walls (Recap: Nausa seeks knowledge. He's with the goddess now. Later, everyone else finds the knowledge. Also: rats! Oh, and Demostrate's gay?)

5. Wreck of the Anubis, +Gus L , https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_4yfZaJH0e5dDNaNm1IRjlCMU0/edit?usp=sharing. TPK! (Recap, with 6., below: "Team Murderhobo falls to suck monsters but gets right back on that talking blue cow. J keeps opening doors, to his sorrow. RIP, everyone. Also, J again. And, it looks like, Ross again. But this Esquimeaux is hot!"

6. Beneath the Ruins, megadungeon, ongoing, from Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols, Alex Fotinakes, http://www.lulu.com/shop/alexey-fotinakes-and-bob-richens-and-brainus-mangenius-and-john-huh/wizards-mutants-laser-pistols-volume-1-compilation-pdf-version/ebook/product-21976693.html

7. Prison of the Hated Pretender, +Gus Lhttps://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_4yfZaJH0e5UXBlMXlrN2hDMjg/edit (Recap: Deadly daylight! Escaping deeper into the giant head does not seem to help. We are going to need more first-level FBI guy)

8. Madness in the Earth and Village of the Plague Zombies, +Tim Shorts, https://www.patreon.com/posts/ma-10-village-of-824826 and https://www.patreon.com/posts/ma-9-madness-in-802688 (Recap: Missing miners and zombie dirt grubbers. RIP, Donal. You were getting too old for this s***. Also, too zombie.)

9. Faery Ring to Alpha Ari, Paul Gorman, One Page Dungeons 2013, https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0ByZPO7dbW0goSUpzbW9FQ2t4clU (Recap: Words can hurt, you dead space fairy. Not your words, but words. The illegal gold-smelting operation costs Eydis her mule deposit but gets her laid.)

10. Beyond the Ice Fall, +Joe Salvador  from +Scott Moberly's  AFS 6, http://hallsoftizunthane.blogspot.com/2014/11/afs-6-released-for-sale_24.html (Recap: I think the best way is if I cast sleep and then you shoot them. I'll just make myself a camp bed of the cleric's spinal fluid.)

6a. Back to Beneath the Ruins, including (Recap: Hell gnomes? Meet Operation: Hell Yes! Hyaena-men: a great way to get rid of your friends' offal.)

11. Slumbering Ursine Dunes, +Chris Kutalikhttp://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/140450/Slumbering-Ursine-Dunes (Recap: I'm loading the unconscious party members into the Void Boat just in case!)

12. The Singing Hill, Christopher Wood, http://carapaceking.blogspot.com/2014/10/getting-my-work-out-there.html (Recap: That kitchen staff is pretty tough!) (Adpated with more Deep Ones)

13. The Flayed King, +Tim Shorts  https://www.patreon.com/posts/ma-20-flayed-1704462 (Recap: If we never get to town, can we keep getting XP? Hey, town! Makes all the Deep One killing and model-ship smashing worth it. Plus, this boa constructor sounds interesting.) Boa constructor from +Patrick Stuart  and +Scrap Princess's Fire on the Velvet Horizon, of course (http://www.lulu.com/shop/scrap-princess-and-patrick-stuart/fire-on-the-velvet-horizon/paperback/product-22094199.html)

14. Isles of the Dead, +Arnold K.  http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-isles-of-dead.html (Recap: Riddles are best solved with extreme violence. Also, Ross is a magic otter. And alive!)

15. The Rugmaker's Den, +Arnold K.  http://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-rugmakers-den.html (Recap: Utropiaganger rekills the Sexquimmeaux. Send in the clowns. #YouDontJustEatEm )

16. In the Moon Bog,  +Joe Salvador, https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/mZFXkGDObe_g8JvhFJ1s-ZXC3-yS4lv8WysarrBLuKZsmSt7VicVeDHMEWNMtQFfb1Dbe0bd5x_f8t0uEPM_tNFXI6g=s190 (Recap: Call that battle axe Vice President Bush because your other hand is electing Mr. Ray-Gun! Also, if that slave girl wanted to be rescued she should have been covered in gold, jewels, or magic items. Somehow, after Andrew kills J, Manny (and Barry) save the day.)
 
17. Thew Wagon Hunt!

18. Temple of Greed, Daniel Neffling, http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/146415/Temple-Of-Greed (Recap: Greed wins! But werewolves are still dangerous. Well, J is. RIP, Hypokrates. Welcome, Iluq)

19. Ghost Ship of the Desert Dunes, +Jeff Talanian 
http://www.hyperborea.tv/store/p7/Ghost_Ship_of_the_Desert_Dunes.html

Recaps: 1. Wait a minute--wolverines are nothing like bouncy houses! I am in the pit. You are in the pit. In the pit, we are safe. Don't stop believing.

2. Solon's charm wears thin on the butcher. Also, hot spider-on-bat action--with ants!

3. Checking the ceiling fails to deal with this whole (berserk) radioactive Viking berserker zombie problem--or anything else. RIP, Sophia and Pompom

4. Smoking joints of nightmare sap proves once again to be the only way to finish off a dungeon. Now that we have this Amazon skyship, nothing bad can happen, right necromancer?

20. Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine, +Logan Knight, http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/133404/Sleeping-Place-of-the-Feathered-Swine (Recap: You don't normally tell us what the air tastes like. This seems dangerous. Better go ahead and light the ranger on fire now.)

Lots of resources!
 

 

12/16/2015 9:15 am  #10


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

One of the "techniques" I used in a long-running campaign of mine was that if I had a cool idea mid-session, I just threw it in as soon as possible, unless it would contradict crucial information already presented. It was a low-prep nWoD game with mortal characters sans supernatural abilities, the main concern being a shadow war between two major cults, but no matter where they went, the characters always ran into something bizarre.

Also: the player's actions should always have consequences. They should be fair, but as drastic as possible to further motivate them, so the game becomes a back-and-forth of PCs acting, NPCs reacting, PCs reacting to them and so forth. Having just a couple of colourful NPCs with simple motives and conflicts and a bunch of proactive/motivated PCs should be all you need.

 

12/16/2015 9:52 am  #11


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

Handy Haversack wrote:

I like playing with a big library of adventures near to hand so that if the players decide on something really off course, I can throw *something* at them. 

Great Idea.  Even if its just a piece of an adventure.

Lots of resources, thanks!
 


“How can I wear the harness of toil
And sweat at the daily round,
While in my soul forever
The drums of Pictdom sound?” 
 

12/16/2015 9:55 am  #12


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

Ynas Midgard wrote:

One of the "techniques" I used in a long-running campaign of mine was that if I had a cool idea mid-session, I just threw it in as soon as possible, unless it would contradict crucial information already presented.

I like this as well.  
 


“How can I wear the harness of toil
And sweat at the daily round,
While in my soul forever
The drums of Pictdom sound?” 
 

12/16/2015 9:57 am  #13


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

Ynas Midgard wrote:

One of the "techniques" I used in a long-running campaign of mine was that if I had a cool idea mid-session, I just threw it in as soon as possible, unless it would contradict crucial information already presented. . . .  no matter where they went, the characters always ran into something bizarre.

Also: the player's actions should always have consequences. They should be fair, but as drastic as possible to further motivate them, so the game becomes a back-and-forth of PCs acting, NPCs reacting, PCs reacting to them and so forth. Having just a couple of colourful NPCs with simple motives and conflicts and a bunch of proactive/motivated PCs should be all you need.

Totally. Well said, Ynas Midgard.
 

 

12/16/2015 6:17 pm  #14


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

DiceDuke wrote:

Caveman, what you said about knowing and developing my game world environment makes good sense. I'm not someone who is known for fast thinking on their feet. I think that goes a long way towards a more consistent, believable world. 

Takes time, I 50 years old and still learning to make a good GM.
 

 

12/18/2015 11:39 pm  #15


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

Lots of great stuff guys! Now I'm even more eager to get back behind the screen. I think my next thing is to start getting organized for running this game. Think I'm going to organize my campaign notes in a divided three ring binder, and work on that library of adventures. I had four or five already picked out but I like the idea of a bigger stash of adventures so that the campaign has a more free flowing feel, and I still have a safety net.

 Handy Haversack, that is one awesome list of adventures! There are a couple I have read through, some I recognize the name of, and the rest are new to me. Can't wait to sift through that list! Thanks for posting them up.

Once I come up with my list to get my group through the first few levels, I'll start a new thread and see what you all have for input, if you would all be so kind.

Thanks!


"...only a shadowy conception of the future and of his own emotional make-up saved him from being a man without imagination, a dangerous dullard."  -the Gunslinger, The Dark Tower I
     Thread Starter
 

1/18/2016 11:39 pm  #16


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

For me a successful campaign must capture a certain "mood", "vibe" or "flavour". That is usually where I begin. The question I typically ask myself is "What am I wishing to portray and how do I portray it?" My current campaign combines Bronze Age Greece, Dark Ages Britain, and a rather large dose of various mythologies. The rest develops itself as the players interact with the world. I try to shelf my own expectations of what the players will/might/could/should do and be reflexive to their decisions. I try to enable my players a sense of autonomy and power within whatever environment they are in. That includes rewarding creative thinking and providing multiple avenues of adventure. I try to give my players plenty of options — say 6 adventures of varying sizes prepared. Most may be one-shot length, while a few are larger in scope and complexity. 

 

2/12/2016 4:35 pm  #17


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

As others have suggested, mood and inspirational material is always my starting point. I figure that I can "wing it" and throw players into interesting situations without a lot of prep, and then I react to what they want to do, but the feel of the campaign requires me to be in a certain mood. My rule of thumb is that I let players do what they want, but I try to toss obstacles and challenges their way to keep them hooked on the action.


Marv / Finarvyn
DCC playtester (2011), S&W WhiteBox Author (2009), C&C playtester (2003), Metamorphosis Alpha since 1976. OD&D Player since 1975
 

2/12/2016 6:41 pm  #18


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

Great response, Fin!


Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - A Role-Playing Game of Swords, Sorcery, and Weird Fantasy
 

2/13/2016 7:03 am  #19


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

Yep, that's pretty much what I do: it's like metal-jazz language fusion...you know, Spinal Tap + Vance...oftentimes I surprise myself with the bizarrities I create off the cuff. This is probably why I hew to lean rules.


"Enough of this intolerable inanity! I propose that such loquacity passes beyond the scope of nuisance and over the verge of turpitude."
Jack Vance, Rhialto the Marvellous
 

2/13/2016 7:23 am  #20


Re: Leveling Up as a GM

rhialto wrote:

Yep, that's pretty much what I do: it's like metal-jazz language fusion...you know, Spinal Tap + Vance...oftentimes I surprise myself with the bizarrities I create off the cuff. This is probably why I hew to lean rules.

I agree, of course!


Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - A Role-Playing Game of Swords, Sorcery, and Weird Fantasy
 

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