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Learning the art of Game Mastering

VicVic Registered User regular
edited May 2008 in Critical Failures
We recently had a thread about GM'ing play by post games. This is a thread about face to face roleplaying, and game mastering in general.

My first contact with the world of pen and paper roleplaying games was Dungeons and Dragons second edition, back when I was a teenager. A friend of mine's dad had been playing Dungeons and Dragons since way way back, and inspired his sone to try out dungeon mastering.

After a few games it became evident that he was more interested in telling his own super awesome story , leaving us as spectators rather than the focus of the action. We met our first great gold dragon during our first session, and the first few missions ended in a battle involving "millions of soldiers". So I took up the mantle, and acted Game Master on and off for several years. I have done almost all the classical dungeon master mistakes including power playing, leading the story with my own characters, not treating players equally and so on. We had many wonderful adventures, but also many mediocre ones. In the end I felt unsatisfied with my own skill as a Game Master.

Almost all game masters are self-taught. There are no classes to take, no exams to write before you are allowed to start leading your own games. Some lucky few have an older game master to ask for advice and hints, but otherwise you are on your own. So what makes a good game master? To quote wikipedia: "A good gamemaster draws the players into the adventure, making it enjoyable for everyone. Good gamemasters have quick minds, sharp wits, and rich imaginations." Now, if you have an ambition to game master I would assume you at least consider yourself to have a rich imagination and a quick mind. But surely there are skills to Game Mastering that you don't have to have been born with.

Share your tips on how to improve one's game mastering abilities! Acting classes? Creative writing practice? Growing a full beard?

Oh, and feel free to share stories of bad experiences with Game masters, especially if they are good examples of how not to do it.

Here are a few things I would personally like to improve in my own game mastering style:

Including the players personally into the story:

You may have skimmed over the player characters backgrounds and taken little notice of the fact that the party's elven ranger has humans as his chosen enemy because of a bandit lord roaming the countryside near his home village. And sure, in truth the player might just have wanted an excuse to get the combat bonus against humans.

Remember though, the players are supposed to be the main characters in the story! Why not include the bandit lord in the campaign later on as an antagonist instead of generic bandit #3, or even as a friendly NPC linked to the current storyline?

Make it a first person experience.
This is something I am really crap at. It is all too easy to let the players become detatched from their characters, content to control them like a puppet instead of actually trying to immerse themselves into the game. Keeping the game pace up, giving rich desctiptions of the environments and heavy focus on roleplaying can help in keeping the players involved in the game, but in truth this is as much up to the players as it is to the GM. I find this is the most difficult part of GM'ing, and it really makes or breaks a session.

Vic on
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