Saturday, August 20, 2011

Building a Better GM

Bedoo threw down the gauntlet by saying “something I'd like to see more bloggers discuss is their successful table techniques that translate into good games"

Ckutalik codified this with these 3 questions:

  1. Name three “ best practices” you possess as a GM. What techniques do you think you excel at?
  2. What makes those techniques work? Why do they “pop”?
  3. How do you do it? What are the tricks you use? What replicable, nuts-and-bolts tips can you share?
1. Be prepared. I’m not talking about knowing the rules, or having read through the module you’re going to run, that’s a given. I’m talking about being ready for when things go wrong. For example in my last session the players managed to take out a dragon in 2 rounds, making what should have been the big tense fight of the night into something that was at once awesome, and yet a bit of a let down. “Dragon” is half the name of the game! It shouldn’t be a 2 round encounter. Just... no!

But it happened.

We moved on, and they still got a big boss fight before we wrapped up for the night. Because of they way things went earlier I had an encounter that they skipped that I tweaked on the fly to beef it up a bit, and I dropped on them. It was everything the dragon encounter could have been.

Things are not going to go according to plan. Be prepared, mentally, to go with it.

2. Ham it up. This is Dungeons and Dragons, not Lord of the Rings. You are not a professional actor or writer of works of literary genius, you are a DM. Use funny voices, odd speech patterns, hats, props, and your hands. You don’t have to be (or even just look) crazy, but put some life into it. It’ll get your pulse going, which will get you more into the game. This will spread to your players, even if they don’t get in on the act. My players are almost pure 3rd person when it comes to their characters, but I can tell they respond better when I get into it.

3. Provide options and back doors. This goes back to point 1 - Your players are not following a script, and they especially aren’t following your script! Be sure that if you give them a situation that they can get into, they you give them a way out. I’m not talking about a free pass, but if you stick them in a room without any doors, windows, or anything else, no one is going to have any fun. Give them a door, but make it cost whoever opens it. If they’ve been stupid, maybe it costs a hand. Who’s going to sacrifice a hand to let everyone out?

This ties in nicely with the Alexandrian's Three Clue Rule as well as the "Yes and/but" technique.

This might come as a shock, but August's RPG Blog Carnival topic is Animals and it's being hosted here at the Tower of the Archmage! How can you get involved? Easy! Write a post about animals, anything about animals, and then share the link!


  1. Your Point 3. ties into Justin's _Three Clue Rule_, but also (with a little more prep) works well with his Node-Based Design essay ( I'm a fan of both and apply (and extend, I think) them in my campaign setting design series at

  2. Keith - I'd forgotten about the node based design, thanks for the reminder. very cool design series... I've only just started reading it, but I like it so far.